Teenagers in the US simply don’t get enough shut eye. The consequences of this epidemic of sleep deprivation are extensive and include increasing rates of anxiety and depression among adolescents, as well as suicidal thoughts and actions. Sleep-deprived teens are more likely to be involved in car crashes, and run a higher risk of injury during sports-related activities.
Experts have pointed to various reasons for the chronic teenage sleep deficit: growing homework loads, too many extra-curricular activities, caffeine consumption, 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, before bedtime.
But researchers at the University of Rochester have found that a simple and timeworn 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,” says Jack Peltz, lead author of a recent study, which was published in the academic journal Sleep. Peltz, now an assistant professor of psychology at Daemen College, earned his PhD in psychology at 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 team asked their teenage participants 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.
Among the key findings:
- Parent-enforced bedtimes-along with later school start times-are the greatest predictors of sleep duration, daytime energy level, and depressive symptoms.
- More than 50 percent of parent respondents reported no specific or enforced bedtime rules, consistent with rates measured in previous research across families in the US.
- Evening screen time and caffeine consumption did not, contrary to the researchers’ hypotheses, significantly affect teenagers’ sleep duration over the course of the study.