The great struggle: Teens and sleep!

Periodically I have a teenager come to my office.  Usually he or she is convinced that there is something wrong with them because they are always tired.

I usually tell them, let’s start with the basics.  Teenagers need more sleep I don’t know about your school system, but where I live, the teenagers start the earliest.  Not the best for a group of individuals who usually stay up late.

Here is what I tell patients and their parents:

Overall, parents need to be sure that kids are getting enough sleep. This means:

  • Most school aged children (preteen) need between 10 -11 hours of sleep, and
  • Most teenagers need 9 hours of sleep


Now of my two kids, my school-aged child is a great sleeper.  She knows when bedtime is, turns off the light, radio, pulls up the covers and is asleep within minutes (if not seconds)!  My tween, not so much!

“Why can’t I stay up later?” “All my friends get to stay up past ten!”  Does this sound familiar to you?

The problem is that she needs her sleep.  She is slow to wake up and not a perky morning person even at the best of times.  She also does not fall asleep as easily.

Here are five things we do to help our daughter sleep:

  1. Keep a standard bed time: Many different functions of your body slow down during sleep such as breathing, heart rate and body temperature.  By keeping bedtime fairly consistent, your body knows when to begin adjusting for sleep.
  2. Keep a fairly standard pre-bedtime routine. : This helps set up your body to know it needs to wind down to sleep and gives it time to begin the adjustments needed to sleep. This routine should start 30 – 60 minutes before the time that your child wants to fall asleep.
  3. No TV in the 30 – 60 minutes before bedtime: TV keeps the mind active and engaged and hinders falling asleep.  In addition, many shows that are on at night time keep you especially alert (such as crime shows). As a matter of fact, I don’t believe in having TVs in the bedroom!
  4. Likewise, no loud music during this time. If your child/young person wants music, it should be quiet and relaxing
  5. No cell phones or other electronic devices at bedtime/in the bedroom at night. Every time the phone rings/alerts, even if your child does not pick it up, it increases the alertness of the body.  In addition, during the night it disrupts sleep cycles that are important for functioning of the brain during the day.

Remember all of these also apply to you!  The best way to demonstrate the importance of sleep hygiene is by modeling the behaviors you would like to see in your children.  (I don’t have a TV in my bedroom and we don’t bring our cell phones to bed…they stay on the kitchen counter except when I am on call).

What do you do to help your kids get the sleep they need?


By: Shalini Forbis, MD

Dr. Forbis is a pediatrician in the Children’s Health Clinic at Dayton Children’s and a mother to two girls. As part of the “Dr. Mom Sqaud,” Dr. Forbis blogs about her experiences as both as doctor and a mom and hopes to share insight to other parents on issues related to both parenting and kids health. Learn more about Dr. Forbis!

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