Helping teens prioritize sleep

The average teen in the US is chronically sleep deprived. There are a variety of reasons for this:

  • Early school start times that conflict with the circadian phase advance that happens naturally with puberty.
  • Competing demands from home work, social media, after school jobs, etc.
  • Late night media use can not only lead to a teen wanting to stay up later to keep engaging with the media, but can also further advance the circadian clock, since the bright light from screen media devices can throw off melatonin rhythms.
  • Adults in their lives often role model cutting back on sleep first when life gets too busy, and teens learn more from what we do than what we say.

We all know that getting enough sleep is important for health and well-being, but that knowledge isn’t always enough to make sleep a priority for adults — and it definitely isn’t enough of a motivation for all teens. However, research increasingly shows us that sleep loss doesn’t only have a negative impact on physical health, but also affects adolescents in ways that may be a bigger selling point with some teens:

  • Even gifted athletes perform worse in sports when they’ve lost as little as an hour of sleep the night before. This has been shown with a wide variety of sports, including football, basketball, and tennis.
  • Teens have a harder time controlling their emotional reactions to situations when they haven’t slept enough the night before, and they’re also more likely to mistakenly think someone is threatening or insulting them. The combination of these leads to more fights, arguments, and difficulties with friends and relationships.
  • Not only does homework take longer when teens haven’t had enough sleep, but they get less out of it — they’re less likely to remember the next day what they’ve learned.

Given what you know about your teenager, what might help motivate them to prioritize sleep?

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