This fall, California is rolling out a first-of-its-kind law that shifts class start times for most public middle and high schools. High schools in the state cannot start before 8:30 a.m., and for high schools it is 8 a.m. Research has shown that if teens sleep more, attendance and school performance will improve.
Sumit Bhargava, MD, a pediatric sleep medicine specialist at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, says sleep should be a priority because it’s important for the overall health of all children and teens.
“Sleep has been postulated to aid in brain development and the development of memories,” he says. “In addition, adequate sleep appears to be protective against chronic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes.”
Most teens are sleep deprived
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seven in 10 high school students don’t get enough sleep. dr. Bhargava explains that teenagers get sleepy much later in the evening compared to primary school students, which means they have to go to bed later. However, in most cases, except in California now, high school students still have to get up relatively early for school.
“This results in the sleep-deprived teen having extreme difficulty waking up and then feeling sleepy or falling asleep in class,” says Dr. Bhargava. “This can also contribute to drowsy driving, an additional complication for the novice teenage driver.”
So, how much sleep does your child need? That depends on his or her age. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following:
- 3-5 years: 10-13 hours of sleep (including naps)
- 6-10 years: 9-12 hours of sleep
- 13-18 years: 8-10 hours of sleep
Tips to sleep better
Setting a bedtime schedule, a consistent wake-up time, and turning off screens can all contribute to a better night’s sleep. But what if your teen tends to stay up late?
dr. Bhargava recommends keeping phone and tablet charging stations out of the bedroom. Research has shown that even the presence of a charger can reduce sleep time by 20-30 minutes. Another is to make sure your teen gets about 45 minutes of exercise every day, ideally before 7pm
He also suggests that teens don’t oversleep on weekends. Your teen may be tempted to make up for lost sleep, but they aren’t likely to be able to pay off their sleep debt in full. Research has shown that it can take up to four days to recover from an hour of sleep deprivation and up to nine days to eliminate it. While naps can aid in short-term recovery, they can also lead to a delay in falling asleep at night, triggering a cycle of decreased sleep duration, daytime sleepiness, and increased sleep debt.
“Having realistic ideas about proper bedtime and sleep duration is important for the high school student to prevent insomnia and make the onset of sleep a stressful experience,” says Dr. Bhargava. “Sleep should be considered part of a healthy life, and good sleep habits can be taught as well as learned.”
If your child still has trouble sleeping, discuss it with your child’s health care provider or a sleep medicine specialist.