Are Students Getting Enough Sleep?

news_levenson_jessica_103013What time does your teenager’s school start classes in the morning? Is it before 8:30 a.m.? If so, your child’s school is similar to the majority of U.S. middle and high schools that start classes earlier than 8:30 a.m., according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released last week. Schools that start before 8:30 a.m. are starting too early, according to the report, because they do not allow adolescent students the chance to get enough sleep.

What is enough sleep for a middle or high school student? The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers get between 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night, but adolescents only get about 7.6 hours of sleep on average school nights. In fact, 45 percent of adolescents get less than 8 hours of sleep on school nights.

While it may be common for adults to start their workdays before 8:30 a.m., starting classes before this time makes it difficult for teenagers to get the sleep that they need to be healthy, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There are several factors that contribute to insufficient sleep among teenagers. First,sleep sleep undergoes dramatic changes during adolescence. During this time, biological pressure to fall asleep accumulates more slowly in adolescents than younger children, making it harder for adolescents to fall asleep. In addition, developmental shifts in circadian rhythms contribute to changes in sleep timing, usually seen as a shift to significantly later bed and wakeup times on weekends compared to weekdays. Thus, teens have an increasingly difficult time falling asleep. Factors such as technology use, heavy homework demands, extracurricular activities, physical and mental health issues, and caffeine can also contribute to delayed bedtime, which, when combined with early school start times, squeezes the sleep window from both ends, resulting in insufficient sleep.

Though insufficient sleep is common among teens, it is associated with several damaging consequences, including poor academic performance, depressive symptoms, overweight and obesity, and risky behaviors like substance use and impaired driving. Delaying school start times may be an effective remedy to chronic sleep loss among adolescents. What else can you do to help your child get enough sleep?

Encourage them to use the bed only for sleep
• Doing things other than sleeping in bed (like reading, watching TV) sends the message that the bed is the place to be awake, making it harder to fall asleep in bed.

Regularize daily routines
• School start times force most teens to wake up earlier during the week than they do on the weekends. But, sleeping in on the weekends can make it harder for them to return back to weekday sleep schedules, resulting in more sleepiness and fatigue. So, encourage teens to keep sleep and wake schedules consistent across the days of the week and weekend.

Limit technology in the bedroom, especially mobile devices
• Not only can these devices distract youth from getting to bed as scheduled, many of them also emit a blue light that reduces the release of melatonin, a hormone associated with the onset of sleep.

Encourage your child to reduce substances
• It takes 5-6 hours for half of ingested caffeine to leave the body. Encouraging teens to avoid caffeine 6 hours before bed will ensure that sleep isn’t affected. Nicotine also has stimulating effects, which can take hours to wear off. Urge your child to minimize these substances as much as possible.

Reducing stress
• Stress can contribute to worry and anxiety at night, making it harder to get to sleep. Talk with your child about strategies for managing stress, especially around difficult times (school exams, sports meets, etc.)

Help your child take care of medical problems
• Many medical problems (for example, pain) can interfere with sleep. Facilitate contact between teens and their medical providers to address medical problems that may be impacting their ability to sleep well.

Make sleep a priority!
• There are many important priorities and distractions that can interfere with sleep. Model for teens how to prioritize sleep. Teach them to schedule sleep like you schedule any other activity and stick to the schedule!

For more information on the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, visit

Reference List
(1) Owens J. Insufficient sleep in adolescents and young adults: an update on causes and consequences. Pediatrics 2014; 134:e921-e932.

(2) Hirshkowitz M, Whiton K, Albert SM et al. National Sleep Foundations’ sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health 2015; 1:40-43.

(3) National Sleep Foundation poll task force. Teens and Sleep: 2006 Sleep in America poll. 2006.
Ref Type: Report

(4) Shochat T, Cohen-Zion M, Tzischinsky O. Functional consequences of inadequate sleep in adolescents: A systematic review. Sleep Med Rev 2014;18:75-87.

(5) Carskadon MA, Acebo C, Jenni OG. Regulation of adolescent sleep: implications for behavior. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2004;1021:276-291.