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How to fix your teen's bad sleep habits

Lisa Steinke, with Liz Fenton, is the co-author of the debut chick lit novel l'll Have Who She's Having and the popular Chick Lit blog chicklitisnotdead.com.

Help your teen get the right amount of zzzs

If your teen is like most, he wants to go to bed late and wake up late — not the best plan when it comes to school. According to studies, only 8 percent of teenagers are getting the required amount of ZZZs they need.

The good news is, even if your teen’s sleep habits are all over the place, it is possible to get his internal body clock back on track.

How much sleep is your teen getting?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, "Sleep is, in essence, food for the brain. And insufficient sleep can be harmful, even life-threatening." So even if you read that and think your child is fine, that he's getting enough sleep, you could be mistaken. According to a study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, "Ninety-two percent of teens aren't getting enough sleep each night."

So what qualifies as enough? The National Sleep Foundation strongly suggests that teens need nine hours of shut-eye each night with eight hours borderlining on poor.

Where does your child fall on this scale? Is he in the 8 percent of teens getting nine or more hours? Not likely.

So what gives? Why aren't teens getting enough sleep?

Turns out, your teen's body clock is at least part of the blame. According to a research report published by the National Sleep Foundation and the Sleep and Teen's Task Force, adolescent's sleep patterns undergo a phase delay for both sleeping and waking. Studies show that the typical high school student's natural time to fall asleep is 11 p.m. or later.

Plus, if your teen isn't going to sleep and waking at the same time each day (including Saturday and Sunday), his irregular sleep schedules can contribute to having trouble falling asleep and waking, and fragmented, poor quality sleep.

Study: Morning light exposure affects teens' sleep patterns >>

No sleep = ?

So what are the negative consequences of your son or daughter not getting at least nine hours of sleep per night? According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens who don't get enough sleep:

  • Have an increase of unintentional injuries, even death. (Traffic crashes and handling hazardous equipment.)
  • Perform less well during the day. (Even if the reason they're staying up late is to do homework.)
  • Experience negative moods and inability to control emotions; inability to stay focused.
  • Have an increased likelihood of stimulant abuse.

The 4 deadliest drugs teens are taking >>

What can you do to help?

Dr. Frank Coletta, co-director, Pulmonary Medicine & Respiratory Therapy and director of South Nassau Communities Hospital's Sleep Medicine Center suggests:

  • Make sleep a priority. Make a bed and wake-time plan and stick to it as much as possible, even on weekends. Not only will the teen get more beneficial sleep but it should be easier to fall asleep at a regular bedtime.
  • Make time-management changes in order to get to bed on time, which means not only organizing homework, but nighttime school and sports activities, and even downtime.
  • Establish an off time for the computer and electronic devices as teens can spend extra hours into the night surfing, texting and viewing instead of sleeping.
  • Avoid eating, drinking or exercising within a few hours of bedtime. Stick to quiet, calm activities, and falling asleep will be easier.
  • Parents should set a sleep plan when their kids are young and be consistent about following it as their children grow older. Helping their pre-teens with good sleep habits will make it easier to sustain healthy patterns through the teen years.

Read more about your teen's health

Encouraging teens to eat healthy
Eating disorders amp up with technology
Exercise and teen girls: How much is too much?

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