“Can I stay up a little longer?” my 16-year-old asks, as he surrenders his phone to our room for the night. “How long am I going to have a bedtime?” he whispers.
That’s a really good question. How long am I going to force him to turn in at 10 PM?
It’s a rule we instated as soon as he hit high school and haven’t budged on since — despite his many protests.
Still, I know it’s not everyone’s parenting style.
Jen, a mom of two, has a more lax approach. She tells Babble that her 15-year-old son goes to bed at 11 PM on weekdays and wakes at 6:15 AM. “He established [this bedtime] himself,” she says. “No enforcement by us. His choice and consequences.”
Honestly, I respect her thinking. After all, my son is eager to exert his independence by working and driving. In less than two years he’ll be a college student, responsible for catching his own Zzzs without Mom there to force “lights out” (or threaten to turn off the Wi-Fi). But for right now, I just can’t seem to let his bedtime go.
My son has a pretty packed schedule, between juggling a girlfriend, track practice, volunteer obligations, way too many AP classes, and a fair amount of responsibilities at home. He’s really busy, and therefore, really tired.
I’ve also noticed that exhaustion alone isn’t enough to send him off to dreamland. There’s homework to do, school activities to participate in, social media to keep up with, and of course, Netflix to binge. That’s a lot to get done before bed!
Just ask Amber Dorsey, whose 16-year-old daughter goes to bed “hella late,” thanks to what her mom says are “AP classes and some poor time management skills,” as well as some extracurriculars.
Oh, teens and time management; I know the struggle well.
Krista understands, too.
“My 14-year-old … doesn’t get home from marching band practice until about 9:30 PM,” she shares. And oh, do I get it. My tween doesn’t arrive home from weekday baseball games until 10 PM come spring. (So yes, sometimes he has an even later bedtime than my teen, but he also has a later start time for school.)
Christine Koh, a mother of two and fellow prioritizer of sleep, tells Babble:
“I have strong feelings on this topic. It’s lights out by 9/9:30 PM. A lot of [my daughter’s] friends are up late falling asleep on their homework and I’m like NO. It’s possible to get enough sleep if you aren’t overbooked. We make this happen with a one activity rule.”
Setting limits on everything from schedules to screen time matters — especially for teens. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a 2016 study found that high school students who went to bed between 10 and 11 PM every night got better grades on average. And yet, according to a new study published by JAMA Pediatrics, American teens are getting less shuteye than ever. Fewer than 30 percent of high school students are getting eight hours of sleep a night, when in fact, eight to 10 hours are recommended for adolescents.
Of course, their parents are among the first to notice. Jessica Ashley shares that when her 14-year-old son is exhausted, “He doesn’t focus as well, remember as much, and gets overwhelmed easier.”
Ana Magsaysay, a mother of four agrees, saying, “[Without sleep], they are distracted …”
“If [my son] doesn’t get adequate sleep,” adds Melanie, “he is emotional, cranky, [and] short fused.”
But these adverse effects of sleep-depravation are only the beginning. The latest research, which analyzed 68,000 high school student-conducted surveys over an eight-year period, serves as a startling wake-up call to parents everywhere. According to Reuters:
“Compared with teens who got at least eight hours of sleep, high school students who got less than six hours were twice as likely to drink alcohol, almost twice as likely to use tobacco, and more than twice as likely to use other drugs or engage in risky sexual activity.”
I know I don’t make sound decisions when I’m tired, but they’re usually more of the “add to cart” variety during late-night scrolls through Amazon. Sleep-deprived teens face far more serious consequences that cannot be ignored. Beyond risks to a teen’s physical health, insufficient sleep can be potentially dangerous to their mental health, as well.
What’s more: “High school students who got less than six hours of sleep a night were also more than three times more likely to engage in self-harm activities or to contemplate or attempt suicide, compared to teens who got eight hours or more of sleep on a typical night,” Reuters reports.
While I always knew that sleep was important to my teenage son’s physical and mental health, I never once considered it to potentially be a matter of life and death — but perhaps I should have. Suicide and attempted suicide at the high school level has recently ravaged my community, and to think our school year has only just begun.
As we’re all left wondering how to best protect our teenagers from harmful behaviors, a regular bedtime might be the simplest place to start. While I know I can’t shield my own son from every peer danger or personal peril, I can make intentional efforts to connect with him daily, hold steady on a consistent bedtime, reinforce the importance of self-care, and yes, continue booting him off the Wi-Fi.
(Besides, having him home safe in bed helps me sleep better at night, too.)