Determining how much sleep a teenager needs during the school year
Posted Jul 19, 2016
New guidelines for how much sleep children and adolescents need have been published recently by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which I wrote about in a post last month.
The guidelines suggest that adolescents 13 to 18 years old need 8 to 10 hours of sleep on a regular basis. The duration range is important, especially since all available evidence is that, in the U.S. and other countries, most teens sleep less than the recommended hours. But our research and that of others has shown that regularity is also a very important aspect of sleep, and an irregular schedule can be as harmful as regular, shorter sleep.
But does everyone need the same amount of sleep? Probably not. There are individual differences in how much sleep any person “needs” to function optimally. Furthermore, there are probably individual differences in how people respond when their sleep is irregular.
As the new school year approaches, there is a simple way to determine how much sleep a teenager needs. In summer, many teens are able to go to bed and wake up on a schedule that is less predetermined than during the school year. To estimate how much sleep is needed, keep track of the bedtimes and wake times for a week when there are no constraints on those times. The average will give some idea of how much sleep is needed during the school year. Since we know that post-pubertal teens have a hard time going to sleep early for biological reasons, also note the average bedtime and wake time. The results should help parents know whether the nationwide grassroots effort to push back school start times is a good idea or not.
I could be wrong in some cases, but I am betting that teens get more sleep during the summer than during the school year in a typical week, and that their natural wake time is later than what will be necessary next month to get to school on time.