The more your body is growing, the more slumber you need. Infants doze 16 or more hours a day; 3-year-olds only 12 hours. From puberty to age 20, a child needs 9 hours and 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, American teenagers only average six hours. "We're trying to educate a nation of walking zombies," says James B. Maas, Ph.D., Cornell University psychology professor and author of Power Sleep (Harper Collins, 1999). "Students' bodies are in the classroom, but their brains are on the pillow at home."
Perhaps this is a case of too much to do and too little time, but it also may be one of biology. Teenagers' internal clocks shift at puberty, sending them to bed two hours later, at 11 p.m. In 1998, federal legislation was introduced to offer school districts financial incentives to change school hours to be more in sync with teens' circadian rhythms, but only a few communities did so.
Studies by the nation's leading teen sleep researchers show:
The sleep your child is missing matters. Hormones essential to growth and sexual maturation are released during sleep. The brain also clears short-term memory, reviews the day's learning, and reboots emotions during REM, or rapid eye movement sleep (so-called because eyes dart back and forth under the lids). "The old adage that teenagers who don't sleep don't grow has some truth to it," says Dr. Frisca Yan-Go, medical director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.
The longer you sleep, the better your grades. A survey of 3,120 Rhode Island students found that students earning As and Bs averaged 35 minutes more sleep a night than those earning Ds and Fs. One-fourth of the students slept 6-1/2 hours or less on school nights. Only 15 percent slept 8-1/2 hours or more.
Inadequate sleep leads to poor concentration, inability to remember, crankiness, and sluggishness. It's also a major reason that car accidents are the second leading cause of death in young people, Dr. Yan-Go says. So what can you do?
- Keep a regular bedtime. Discourage late-night sports practices, workouts, and jobs.
- Readjust your child's internal clock by opening curtains and turning on all the lights in the morning. At night, keep lights low.
- Consider removing TVs, computers, phones, and video games from bedrooms, and stop using them at least an hour before bed.
- Allot at least 8-1/2 hours for your teen to sleep and schedule life around that.
Originally published in Better Homes & Gardens magazine, September 2000.