Brighter Smiles: Teen Sleep

Tuesday March 21, 2023

When we were all young children, most of us got plenty of sleep, and for that matter, we didn’t think much of it. Our parents told us it was time for bed and we went to bed. We slept until the morning at which time we were woken by our parent’s gentle touch.
As we progressed into our teenage years, our responsibilities increased. This typically led to staying up later and getting up earlier to be able to keep up with these added responsibilities. Today, it seems that getting enough good sleep is even more of a challenge for our teenagers.
One of the contributing factors of this teen sleep crisis is that parents are not as strict with setting rules for sleep as they were when their children were younger. It is not uncommon for teenagers to say to their parents they are going up to their room to do homework and then go to bed.
I recently asked my daughter (a freshman in college) what time she generally “packed it in” and settled down to fall asleep. She told me that after she finishes her homework she will lie in bed and watch something on her laptop until she feels sleepy. This trend is an antithesis to good sleep and one that must be discussed with every teenager by their parents.
Rules about electronics, which include cell phones, computers, games and the television, are especially crucial. In a study done by the National Sleep Foundation, it was determined that teens who have electronic devices on prior to going to sleep, get an average of 30 minutes less sleep. There are other studies that show that the quality of sleep is also greatly affected by this same practice.
Another, more obvious rule that parents must enforce, is the consumption of caffeine at night. Any form of caffeine should not be consumed after dinner. Studies indicate that caffeine in the system accounts for almost a full hour less of quality sleep. We, and our teenagers, cannot afford this deprivation of sleep.
We all start our days at different times. For the teenager, getting up to get ready for school can start pretty early. There is a “start school later” movement that recently received a powerful boost from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC report showed that teenage students have biologically different sleep patterns and needs than in other stages of life. Starting school a half hour later or more provides the teenager the opportunity to consistently get a better night’s rest.
For the teenager, managing homework and extracurricular activities is also definitely a barrier to sufficient sleep. We as parents must discuss this with our children to provide support with time management. If necessary, we must also not be afraid to discuss this with teachers and coaches if our teenager is struggling to get everything accomplished, thus affecting their sleep patterns.
As adults, many of us have our own routines that could use a revision to get more quality sleep. That is a subject for another time. As parents, it is our responsibility to guide our children to practice good habits. Discussing and enforcing better sleep habits is a gift that keeps on giving.
Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating snoring, sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at

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