As children progress through adolescence, they experience hormonal changes that shift their internal sleep schedules back, while experiencing a reduced need for sleep. After partnering with more than 130 youth study participants, ages 10-21, researchers found earlier bedtimes may help offset these natural “night owl” tendencies and help teens get more sleep.
Families of participants in this study worked with researchers to coordinate planned bedtimes for a period measured consecutively throughout four days. This was repeated a few times during the year. During the four-day observation, participants were instructed to go to bed at a time that would allow them to get 7, 8.5, or 10 hours of sleep each night. (Teens ages 13-18 need about 8-10 hours of sleep each night, while adults ages 18 and older need about 7-8.)
The researchers assessed each participant’s total sleep time. Participants who went to bed at a time that would enable them to get 7 hours of sleep each night slept for about 6.71 hours. Those who planned to get 8.5 hours of sleep each night slept for about 7.84 hours. Participants who planned to get 10 hours of sleep each night slept for about 8.79 hours. Every bedtime scheduled for an hour earlier than normal equated to that participant getting about 41.5 minutes of extra sleep each night.
The researchers conclude that earlier bedtimes helped teens get more sleep, but more research is necessary to understand how findings from a controlled study could be applied in the real world. The study was funded by NHLBI and published in Pediatrics.