How much sleep does your tween need?

Melatonin production – the hormone that helps us fall asleep – occurs several hours later for teens than for the rest of us.
Melatonin production – the hormone that helps us fall asleep – occurs several hours later for teens than for the rest of us. Getty Images/iStockphoto

I am so tired of arguing about bedtime - especially since my children are not little kids. After enjoying many years of consistently reasonable evenings, now my pre-and-young teenagers insist that they are not tired enough to go to sleep at the hour preferred by their middle-aged parents. With adolescence underway, sports practices during the week, lengthy homework assignments, and screen time temptations it is difficult to manage this very important facet of our health. What’s an exhausted parent to do?

Know what they need – Initially, I announced to my kids that they needed at least 12 hours of sleep a night to function properly (a mom can dream!) Turns out that that kids between the ages of 12-18 usually require 8-9 hours a night. Some kids need more and some less than this recommendation, so look to your kids’ behavior to help determine if they are getting enough. Sleep-deprived kids may be irritable, depressed, and forgetful. Clearly, a child who is unable to function when it is time to get up needs more time in the sack. And kids who manipulate their bodies constantly with caffeine or sports drinks need to address their exhaustion naturally . . . with an earlier bedtime.

Remember what you (and they) can’t control – You may think your child is just being contrary when he balks at your reasonable bedtime, but his opposition could be scientifically legit. Melatonin production – the hormone that helps us fall asleep – occurs several hours later for teens than for the rest of us. Therefore, teens are actually hard-wired to resist sleeping earlier. This physical reality prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to advocate for later start times for middle and high schools. If yours is still an early wake-up call, be sympathetic to the contradicting forces at work with your child. And if you suspect something unusual is going on, check out this information from the Cleveland Clinic about sleep disorders to see if there are steps you need to take to address a medical issue.

Embrace what you can control – Remember the dinner-bath-reading-bed routine when your kids were small? As it turns out, kids of all ages crave routines. And remember that in many ways the bedtime routine actually begins as soon as your child gets home from school, since being organized about homework and other responsibilities is key to making earlier bedtimes possible. As time for bed nears make sure to control screen time – both TV and electronics (note: you can’t control devices that are left unchecked in the bedroom). If after implementing these tactics you are still having a hard time with bed time, consider making strategic lifestyle changes to promote better sleep outcomes.

But don’t be a control freak – Sometimes I find myself asserting a rigid position because otherwise it does not feel like I am doing my job . . . but this approach only contributes to our on-going nightmare. A better option allows for some flexibility when possible. If your young teen is doing well with 8 hours of sleep, so be it. While some kids are wrecked when their normal schedule is changed, others easily adjust back to their normal routine in order to accommodate an occasional later night. If your kids are like mine (or like me, actually) and like to read before bed on a Kindle or tablet, try this trick from the WSJ Tech page instead of confiscating the device: use the app’s settings to turn the screen black, with white text, and also to dim the screen all the way down, thus reducing exposure to sleep-interfering light.

As with any parenting challenge where middle-schoolers are concerned, their buy-in helps to guarantee success. Sweet dreams are made of this!