It’s common knowledge that teenagers in the U.S. don’t get enough sleep.
Experts point to various reasons for the chronic teenage sleep deficit: Growing homework loads, too many extracurricular activities, caffeine, school start times that run counter to middle and high schoolers’ natural circadian rhythms, and the use of electronic devices and backlit screens, which may disrupt sleep patterns.
But researchers at the University of Rochester have found that a simple solution yields solid results: A clear bedtime that parents consistently adhere to.
“Greater enforcement of parent-set bedtimes for teenagers aged 14 to 17 are associated with longer sleep duration,” said Dr. Jack Peltz, lead author of a recent study published in the journal Sleep.
Peltz, now an assistant professor of psychology at Daemen College, earned his PhD in psychology at the University of Rochester in 2013 and conducted the study as part of a research appointment at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry.
Study participants included teenagers and their parents. The researchers asked the teens to keep twice-daily sleep diary entries over seven days, collecting reports of sleep duration, daytime energy levels, and depressive symptoms. Parents, meanwhile, provided information about their enforcement of sleep-related rules and bedtimes.
Key findings include:
- Parent-enforced bedtimes — along with later school start times — are the greatest predictors of sleep duration, daytime energy levels, and depressive symptoms;
- More than 50 percent of parents reported no specific or enforced bedtime rules, consistent with rates measured in previous research across families in the U.S.;
- Contrary to the researchers’ hypotheses, evening screen time and caffeine consumption did not significantly affect teenagers’ sleep duration over the course of the study.
In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics responded to the sleep deprivation epidemic by urging school districts to start classes no earlier than 8:30 am, especially for middle and high schoolers. But to date, only about 14 percent of U.S. high schools have heeded the recommendation, which makes the rule-setting role of parents all the more important, the researchers noted.
The researchers acknowledge that setting a bedtime for teenagers might be difficult. But the study results show that even with pre-bedtime conflict, parents’ enforcement of bedtimes yielded better mental health outcomes for their children, the researchers said.
“Ideally parents should be able to work collaboratively with their teenagers to develop bedtimes that still support the child’s autonomy,” Peltz said.
The bottom line is that “even though adolescents start gaining self-sufficiency and independence, they still need sleep and might not prioritize that if left to their own devices,” added coauthor Dr. Ronald Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.
Most teenagers need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night, according to Dr. Heidi Connolly, a professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at the university, who is also a coauthor of the study.
As for an appropriate bedtime, that depends on the wake-up time, the researchers said.
“It’s inherently more difficult for teenagers to fall asleep earlier than later because of their circadian rhythm,” Connolly said. “That’s why it’s so important for high school start times to be later, as the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended across the board.”
The team notes that future studies may be necessary to determine if their findings hold true across a range of populations as their sample was predominantly white, well-educated and economically advantaged.
Source: University of Rochester
Photo: Source: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), whose sleep recommendations for sleep duration for children and adolescents are based on the findings of 13 sleep experts who reviewed 864 scientific articles. Credit: University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw.