Youth Culture Window

Teens Losing Zzzs

Dynamic ImageIt’s 2015, and that means it’s time for New Year’s resolutions. Teens who are behind in school work will hit the books to bring up their grades. Other teens who are discontent with their image may hit the gym to get in shape.

But according to new research on teens and sleeping, a full 90% of them need to just hit the hay.

Sleepless in the Suburbs
We wrote about this same exact topic in the fall of 2014, mainly because it’s an issue in virtually every American household that contains teens. But in mid-December, a national report was released claiming that more than 90% of high school students in the US were “chronically sleep-deprived,” a reality that could negatively impact their grades and overall health.

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that teenagers get approximately 9.25 hours of sleep each night, but that’s not what’s happening in bedrooms across the nation. Researchers didn’t cite one particular cause for these findings; rather, they suggested it could be any number of reasons such as amounts of homework, health conditions like asthma, drug use, and of course, screens. (Race and gender even seem to play a role in this problem, with girls getting less sleep than boys and white teens getting more sleep than minorities.)

And the risks teens face for sleep-deprivation could be much worse than simply dozing off in history class during Mr. Williams’ riveting account of the Battle of Hastings. Other sleep studies have revealed that sleep-deprivation in the lives of teens could play a role in their rates of obesity, depression, automobile accidents, and poor academic performance. Links were also found between sleep-deprivation and an increased risk of substance abuse, such as tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana.

Ironically, there’s also the potential for teens to abuse the very prescriptions given to them by medical professionals to help them get more sleep. Research published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviorsclaimed that teens who were prescribed sleep (and anti-anxiety) meds such as Xanax, Valium and Ambien, were up to 12 times more likely to misuse or abuse them in contrast to students who had never been prescribed those same medications. (Again, race and gender played a factor in these findings; Caucasians were twice as likely as African-American kids to abuse these kinds of meds and females were more likely to abuse them than males.)

Sounds like this generation’s sleep loss problems can’t be solved with a pack of Monster energy drinks.

Sleep Solutions
Fortunately, there are several steps parents can take to help their kids get enough sleep each evening, especially on school nights. And no, you don’t have to make frequent pit stops at Starbucks for $7-cups-of-coffee. It can be as simple as:


  1. Limiting screen time in the bedroom. There are lots of reasons why screens-in-bedrooms is a bad idea. The New York Times bashed the idea of having TVs in kids’ rooms. Laptops and other devices (such as tablets) that are connected to the Internet should be removed for plenty of reasons other than the fact that they contribute to sleep loss. But don’t overlook cell phones when removing screens from sacred sleeping spaces. Yeah, some teens swear they need them for their alarm apps, but do your kid a favor: go to Wal Mart and buy them a $10 clock…that winds up. That way, they’ll be much better off not facing the temptation of picking up their iPhone each time it bings with an incoming text or Facebook notification at 2am. Speaking of screen time, it’s also a good idea to limit it before bedtime, as well. When my friend Jonathan McKee’s kids were younger, he used to employ a great tactic in his home: no TV in the hour leading up to bedtime. Not only does it cut down on last minute visual stimulation, but also gave them the opportunity to spend some time together!
  2. Being realistic with schedules. Let’s face it; too many kids are cramming too much into their days, and the consequences of that mistake can be devastating. From school to homework, extracurricular sports to hobbies, and community service to maintaining a social life, kids are as busy as Wall Street executives. Take a long hard look at your teen’s schedule. If they’re trying to letter in 14 different sports, you might want to consider scaling back a bit. Likewise, if they’re awake at 1:00am every night finishing up school work, you might try to strategically reschedule some of their course work. Do what you can to help them manage a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
  3. Giving them the responsibility to manage themselves. Teenagers value control as much as adults. Like us, they want to feel as though they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to life (which is a wonderful trait to possess). So, when it comes to managing their sleep, help them to realize they may not be able to watch every single episode of The Walking Dead, American Idol, The Big Bang Theory, and Modern Family each week. They may have to make some tough choices. Likewise, they may need to cut loose a few hobbies/sports. I even know one family that connects driving privileges to sleep; if their teens don’t get a certain amount of rest each night, they aren’t allowed to drive themselves to school the next day. In general, it’s a great idea to have discussions with your teens about them assuming more responsibility for their own rest management.

Again, none of those solutions cost anything…and they may end up saving your family more than (just) money in the long run. It’s never too early to ensure our kids are getting enough rest. The healthy practices that we help our kids develop during adolescence can be carried with them throughout the rest of their lives.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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