If you're the parent of a teen, you already know that your son or daughter spends hours a day plugged into all kinds of technological devices. What you may not know is that those extended video game marathons and frequent computer chats may be interfering with your teen's ability to get a good night's sleep.

According to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health, teens who spend two hours or more on non-academic computer use or video games every day are less likely to get enough sleep than their more "unplugged" peers. What's more, high school students who engage in daily exercise are more likely to get a good night's sleep than their less physically active counterparts. Results of this national study of over 15,000 teens were published in the December 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 

How much sleep do teens need?

Experts suggest that the average high school student needs somewhere between 8 - 9 ½ hours of sleep each night. Yet, many teens only sleep 5 - 6 hours or less.

While limited physical activity and an abundance of screen time may be interfering with sleep, there's a physiological explanation, as well. During the teen years, melatonin—a hormone in the brain—is produced later at night than in early childhood. This is believed to cause a change in the circadian rhythm (the body's internal clock) and delay the time it takes for your teen to feel tired.    

Why is sleep important—especially for teens?

Sleep offers important benefits for people of all ages. During the teen years, sleep deprivation can contribute to learning difficulties in school, a weakened immune system, irritability, and even depression. It can also present real risks for novice drivers who may be drowsy behind the wheel.

What can you do?

While you can't make your teen tired before he's ready, you can increase the odds that he'll get a good night's sleep once his head hits the pillow. Here's how:

—Set limits on screen time. Although teens and technology go hand-in-hand, it's important to set reasonable limits that feel right for your family. Talk with your teen about the boundaries you're setting, and explain why this is important for his health and well-being. There are certainly plenty of advantages to raising tech-savvy teens, so there's no need to go cold-turkey! Strive for a healthy balance between screen time and other activities.

—Change the environment. Most teens have at least one electronic device in their bedroom. Many have four or more. These can be distracting and over-stimulating. Move some high-tech equipment to another room in the home so the bedroom can be a place for sleep time, not screen time. 

—Teach time management. Although homework is a fact of life for all students, it doesn't have to be done last minute. Encourage your teen to accomplish computer-related homework earlier in the evening, and to step away from the screen late at night. Developing time management skills will not only improve sleep, it'll help your child succeed in school.

—Move it. Whether you can encourage your teen to join a recreational sports club at school—or simply play ball with siblings before dinner—find opportunities to get your child up and moving. While you're at it, serve as a role model and find time for physical activity in your life, as well. When you make this a priority in your life, your teen will be more likely to do the same.

—Keep away from caffeine. Caffeinated soda and coffee can wreak havoc with your child's sleep schedule. Many students intentionally drink caffeinated beverages to stay awake for late-night homework assignments and other activities. Because the effects of caffeine can last for hours, this can lead to a serious case of sleeplessness.  

—Promote consistency. Encourage your teen to turn off the television, log off the computer, and start his bedtime routine at approximately the same time each night. Of course, when it comes to teens' packed schedules—there will always be times when routines need to be altered. That's to be expected! However, when possible, help your teen develop a consistent sleep routine that feels right for him so he can develop habits that will help him feel relaxed and ready for his very busy days.

If you have concerns about your teen's sleep habits, mood, or behavior, seek professional guidance.

For more information about teens and sleep, visit The National Sleep Foundation at:  www.SleepFoundation.org

Do you have any tips for parents of sleep-deprived teens? Please send them in! We'll share them in the comments section of this blog.

About the Author

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D.

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and speaker specializing in parenting and child development.

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