Jenna, 15, appeared to have it all. She was at the top of her class academically, excelled athletically and was
well liked by peers. But she grew anxious and felt lethargic; she began to isolate herself from
others and acted detached even when she was present.
Her parents didn’t know what to do, until they realized Jenna often went to bed after midnight and
woke early to study. Getting less than six hours of sleep a night was mentally depleting their
As parents, we want to encourage success, but in a healthy way. Sleep is key to attaining this goal.
Teens may not understand how much rest they need and why sleep is essential for their mental and
Why sleep is important
Teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep each night, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet less than 10 percent of teens sleep at least nine hours a
Amy Duncan, a mom of four from Nashville, sees this problem with her kids, Rueben, 16, and Judith,
14. “My teens stay up the latest of anyone in our family and are the first ones to get up,” she
says. Involved in sports, church activities and tough academic schedules, her teens average only
seven hours of rest a night.
Beyond the more obvious symptoms, such as grumpiness, impaired memory and physical performance, not
getting enough sleep can affect a teen’s ability to make healthy decisions. In adolescence, the
chemical and biological changes in their bodies lead them to desire risk-taking and
sensation-offering experiences, such as the thrill that comes from quickly accelerating while
driving a car. The lack of sleep decreases a teen’s ability to understand cause-and-effect or think
It can also lead to a teen’s inability to adjust to or recover from challenging life events — such
as a difficult math class or a painful relationship, says Sissy Goff, director of child and
adolescent counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville. “Because of how the teen brain
is developing, impulsivity and irritability are at an all-time high,” says Goff. “This, compounded
with lack of sleep, can increase the moodiness.”
Additionally, too-little sleep in adolescents increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart
disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. It’s also linked to a higher risk of mental illness,
particularly depression and anxiety.
Healthier sleep habits
While we can’t make the busy demands of everyday life dissipate, we can
employ strategies to help teens obtain more of the sleep they need.
It’s no surprise that using electronics (television, video games or devices that allow texting,
internet surfing or social media) can be a major culprit when it comes to delaying bedtime and
preventing teens from winding down at night. Some teens spend too many night hours talking, texting,
Snapchatting, Instagramming or tweeting friends. The constant stimulus from screens makes it harder
for them to fall asleep or sleep deeply, Goff explains.
To counter that, set parameters around technology and evening routines. “We require our 15-year-old
son to leave his phone in our room each night at 9 p.m.,” Danielle West, a mom of three from
Atlanta, says. “This allows his brain to rest. It also removes the temptation to check ESPN online
or text friends.”
Goff suggests creating a central plug-in station in the parents’ bedroom (or another location in the
home). It gives technology- and activity-free downtime for the teen’s brain. “This allows for
creativity, thoughtfulness about their own lives and the space needed to discover and foster their
own sense of faith,” she says.
Biological development also can make bedtimes challenging as teens’ circadian rhythms begin to
naturally change and they don’t feel tired until later at night. Parents can help adolescents by
initiating nightly habits, such as a cup of hot herbal tea before bed or spending a few moments
together reading or in prayer. Unwinding at night is a process, so teens should tackle challenging
homework earlier when possible.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of setting a positive example. We, too, need to get enough
rest so our teens can see that sleep is an essential part of living a healthy life.