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Writing Sample

Why Your Teen Still Needs a Bedtime

Are you constantly having to fight the "battle of the bedtime" with your teen? Well, keep fighting the good fight. Despite your teen's protests, getting them to bed at a decent hour is one of the best gifts you can give your growing child. And it's not just because you're tired of having to practically drag them out of bed in the morning -- a good night's sleep is one way that you can prepare your teen for success.

How Much Sleep Do Teens Need?

Teens typically do not get as much sleep as they should, and as they get older, the more sleep they require. Johns Hopkins pediatrician, Michael Crocetti, MD, MPH, says that teens should be getting 9½ to 10 hours of sleep each night, whereas the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest anywhere from 8 to 10 hours of sleep. 

Why Are Most Teens Not Getting Enough Sleep?

Of a national sample of high school teenagers in the 2015 national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, nearly three-fourths of them were found not to be getting enough sleep. What's the reason? Well, there are many, but the most likely reasons are cell phones, tablets, and laptops. Whether chatting through Snapchat or cruising Instagram, teens today are glued to their screens. Other common reasons are nightly homework, busy schedules, part-time jobs, and rapidly changing hormones, which set the body's internal clock to a later time. 

Other factors may be at play as well that can interfere with a good nights' rest. Perhaps they struggle with health issues that prevent sleep, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome. Their home life might also be the culprit -- perhaps the student is homeless, has to sleep on the couch, sleeps in a noisy neighborhood, or was up all night taking care of a baby sibling. 

The flip side might also be to blame; a lack of sleep for teens could be caused by how early school starts. The older students typically start school earlier than the younger students, despite the teens naturally going to bed later. Furthermore, teens who take the bus to school may have to wake up hours earlier to catch their bus. Even the CDC recommends that schools should start later--8:30 am at the earliest--to allow teens the chance to get the sleep they very much need. Those schools with later start times even see an increase in enrollment and attendance. Yet most high schools start well before 8:00 am. It's not surprising, then, that it's so hard to get a teen out of bed in the morning!

What Happens If My Teen Doesn't Get Enough Sleep?

When a teen doesn't get enough sleep, whether for one night or over a period of time, they aren't able to undergo the vital activities they need to, in order to function well. A lack of sleep can lead to several deficits ranging from minor to severe and even deadly.

Because sleep is so necessary, the brain will find a way to get some shut-eye, even at inopportune times. This could lead to dangerous or deadly situations of falling asleep behind the wheel of an automobile. In fact, driving sleep deprived is just as, if not more, dangerous than driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.8%, the legal limit. With so many teens and adults sleep deprived, it's no wonder that there are more than 100,000 car accidents every year due to falling asleep at the wheel.

Besides being dangerous, there are a host of cognitive, emotional, and physical effects to not getting enough sleep: 

  • negatively affects mood, making your teen more moody and irritable, impatient, or curt.
  • limits cognitive function, or the brain's ability to learn, listen, and concentrate. Memory and recall may also be affected. 
  • contributes to acne, and since acne heals while you sleep, not getting enough of it will make breakouts last longer.
  • causes cravings for unhealthy foods and may lead to binge eating and weight gain.
  • makes it more likely to contract an illness as your body's defenses have not had time to rest.
  • creates situations where there may be unsafe use of equipment or motor vehicles, leading to increased injuries and accidents.
  • causes poor judgment and lowers impulse control, making teens more likely to smoke, do drugs, drink alcohol, have sex, and get into fights.
  • doubles the chance of suicide, feelings of hopelessness and sadness, and depression.
  • increases the risk of developing some cancers, diabetes type-2, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, 

What Can You Do As Parents?

As a parent, it is your job to make sure your teen is getting adequate sleep each night. The Sleep Foundation, the CDC, Johns Hopkins, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and other health professionals all recommend similar strategies to help your teen avoid sleep deprivation: 

  • Establish a set bedtime for your teen.  Teens who have an established bedtime are more likely to get adequate sleep when compared to a teen with no set bedtime.
  • Limit their intake or the availability of caffeinated beverages such as coffee, soda, and tea.
  • Create a bedtime routine and stick to it. Your body will naturally recognize this routine as a signal to start preparing for sleep. 
  • Turn off the TV. Sleeping with the TV on has been shown to lessen sleep quality. 
  • Limit screen time and light exposure. Don't allow teens to have their cell phones in their bedrooms (they WILL be on them!)
  • Keep their room cool, quiet, and dark. They may even want to use a white noise machine or ceiling fan to make a gentle humming noise.
  • Petition the school district to start school after 8:30 am. 

Most of all, parents should model healthy sleeping habits, hopefully resulting in a well-rested and healthy family!

The Bottom Line

Sleep is as vital to life as oxygen, food, and water. Not getting enough of it is detrimental to a teen's health, well-being, and the well-being of others around them. So while your teen may want to stay up late watching TikToks or playing video games, make sure they get to bed at a decent hour. They may complain about having a bedtime, but there will be fewer complaints about how tired they are.