Q: My 14-year-old stepdaughter says she only needs seven hours of sleep, though her moods suggest otherwise. How much sleep do teens need each night, during the school year?
A: If her moods suggest otherwise, more than seven hours! Experts at the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommend that teens get 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours, every day of the week. (They recommend 10 to 11 hours for children ages 5 to 10 and seven to nine hours for adults.)
In a recent survey, A-Plus Advice Teacher Advisors said that if there were one back-to-school tip they wish parents would heed, it's "Make sure kids get enough sleep."
"Parents, please establish an appropriate sleep schedule and stick to it," says California educator Marianne Maloney. "Students are more sleep-deprived than ever. I blame our 'rushy-rushy' culture and the fact that they sleep with their smartphones. It's making them dumb!"
When teens don't get enough sleep, their problems can go well beyond the occasional cranky mood or dozing off in class.
According to NSF research, lack of good sleep affects brain development. It impairs students' ability to listen, concentrate and solve problems; it leads to forgetting important information like names and homework assignments. It decreases creativity. It can even cause acne, weight gain or other health problems.
The NSF's studies of teens found that those who sleep less than the recommended time are more likely to express unhappiness or sadness, feel nervous or hopeless about the future, or feel depressed.
Sleep gives the brain a "spring cleaning," says Penelope Lewis, author of "The Secret World of Sleep" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). It helps us filter out unimportant things weighing us down and creates "space" for new brain connections.
Technology can rob teens and children of good sleep, according to a recent study by University of Helsinki researchers. They found that the more children play on the computer or watch TV after school, the later they go to bed and the less they sleep on school nights. They found that having a TV or computer in the bedroom disrupted sleep, especially for boys. They recommend keeping TVs and computers out of the bedrooms of children and teens.
As you establish a sleep schedule for your stepdaughter, try to stick to it seven days a week, rather than allowing late nights and "sleeping in" on weekends and vacations. Trying to catch up on lost sleep can make for worse sleep, not better.
Consistency is key, says Dr. Kristin Avis of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center at Children's of Alabama in Birmingham. "It keeps their clock set so they can go to bed at a certain time, sleep well through the night and wake up well-rested the next morning."
While it's good for teens to participate in a broad range of activities, experts warn that clubs, sports and programs shouldn't come come at the expense of sleep.
Parents need to explicitly teach children and teens how to have healthy sleep. Sit down with your stepdaughter and review the healthy sleep tips here: www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)