Back to School, Sports and Sleep: How to Help Teens Get Enough Sleep

Across the country, students are back in school, and families are rubbing sleep out of their eyes to juggle the demands of schoolwork, sports and the many other activities in today’s busy, overscheduled lives.

And why are they rubbing sleep out of their eyes? Because one of the things that gets shortchanged most is sleep. Even as we have learned about the benefits of sleep, especially for the developing brains and bodies of children and adolescents, studies show that between 60 and 70 percent of American teens are living with borderline to severe sleep deprivation.

Medical and sleep experts say that from the time adolescents hit puberty to age 22, they need 8 to 9 hours of sleep to be healthy physically, mentally and cognitively. However, a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health said only about 8% of teens get that, and this poses a real public health issue for our youth.

How can we help our teens get more sleep?

Set and Enforce a Sleep Schedule

Many parents help their teens get to their activities on time – school, sports practice, music lessons, etc. – but they aren’t as strict about getting their child to bed on time. They tend to allow bedtime to flex to meet the demands of the other things. Talk with your teen about their schedule and set a regular bedtime that is realistic and healthy, then commit to enforcing it each night until it becomes habit. Get the Guide to Crushing Sleep for students.

Build the Healthy Sleep Habit

To build any habit requires consistency. That means the bedtime you’ve agreed on applies to weekends too – within reason, which means no dramatic change by more than an hour at the most. Pretty soon, the habit of that regular bedtime becomes a natural sleep and wake cycle that are difficult for the body and brain to ignore — andBOOM, your teen has formed a healthy sleep habits and routine.

Find Pockets of Productivity

For a lot of teens who do sports, band, theater or other activities after school, there is the challenge of having enough time to do homework and study once they get home and finish dinner. Parents can help their kids identify pockets of time during their day when they can get some academics done. Perhaps they can recover “lost time” if they finish classwork early; while waiting for the afternoon bus or even on the ride home; the gap between dismissal and start of practice.

Teach the Diet and Sleep Connection

Teens are notorious for snacking, and sleep deprivation actually triggers binge-eating. Overeating can lead to obesity and other health problems so it’s important for adults and teens to understand the connection between diet and sleep – and how certain foods can help or harm the body’s sleep cycle.

Model and Support Sleep

The most important thing a parent can do to help their teen get more sleep is to practice what they preach. Telling your child – even nagging – them to go to bed doesn’t carry much weight if Mom or Dad is staying up late, eating junk food at 10pm and falling asleep on the couch with the TV on. Set realistic expectations about time commitments and scheduling for the entire family. It’s a good time to teach them to prioritize what’s most important to them and that it is OK to say No to others.