What are reasons for setting a teen bedtime

Parenting Asked by John Spiegel on December 12, 2020

I’d like to set a bed / wake time (or guideline) for my teen. While a part of me would say something like 8:00 a.m. in summer, something like being up by 10:00 is okay with me. But logistically (especially THIS summer) she has no activities that demand her to be up at any time so theoretically she could wake at 4:00 p.m. without impacting any schedules.

What I’m asking is for suggestions as to why there should be a limit on her schedule. I’m trying to stay away from playing the "my house, my rules" card. But my own sensibilities and some general idea that we’re still part of a household and broader society are about the only justifications I have. What are some other reasons I can give for why we’re setting a bed time?

There’s a bit of a consideration around school eventually starting again and not getting life completely out of whack, but during the first week of summer, that seems a fairly abstract argument.

Edit For clarification, my daughter has just finished middle school and is turning 14. As Kevin mentions, this general advice will still tailor as she ages, even comes back home from college, etc.

Follow up I originally posted this question more out of desire to be prepared for an open and considered discussion with my daughter, not fearing the worst or seeking an ideal cudgel. In the end, we landed on weeknights being midnight-ish and weekends a bit later. We never needed a hard bedtime, perhaps an occasional, "I think it’s late enough." Overall, there were never blowups nor disrespect and it pretty much worked out with a few earlier nights approaching school.

Thanks for the ideas!

10 Answers

Just saw your follow-up, so I’ll share what I told my teenager at the beginning of the summer.

Background: At the end of every summer my daughter would complain that her summer disappeared too fast, that she didn’t enjoy it as much as she expected, that fall and school came too early. So…

At the beginning of this summer I suggested that, instead of the typical summer of staying up late and sleeping in, she try getting up early in the morning, so her waking hours would be more normally aligned to daytime. My theory was that being awake during the long hours of (northern hemisphere) summer daylight might cause her to experience the summer as longer. Also, she prefers outside activities to inside activities, so she would have more of the day to do things.

She decided to try it, and generally was in bed by 9:00 and up by 6:00 a.m., except on weekends, when she would stay up a little later, or for specific outings with a friend, when she would be home by 11:00. She would do yoga on our front porch in the morning sun, ride her bike to various destinations, pack a lunch and a book and rent a kayak at a local lake, and (occasionally) practice soccer or go fishing with a (social-distancing) friend. She also decided to experiment with cooking and, when she cooked, had supper ready by 6:00, so she could eat and digest and be in bed by 9:00.

Result: At the end, she did tell me this was her best summer ever, and for once felt long enough. However, since there were other differences this summer -- she had several weeks of sports camp near the ocean, plus I made her get a job (that she hated) for several weeks, plus the on-line school this spring due to COVID-19 – I don’t know how big a factor the getting up early actually was. Or if it would have worked at all if her main fun things were indoor things like video games and television.

Answered by Ossum's Mom on December 12, 2020


Have a chat with your daughter, and make a compromise. I'd go for something of the like: As long as you are up by 11 at the latest, you can stay up for as long as you want and do what you want with your time(*). If you miss your get-up hour - you get a bedtime hour.

Then see how that works.

(*) Within the set of rules that still apply, of course - perhaps no visitors at odd hours, keep the noise at a reasonable level and etc. Your house, your rules.

Answered by Stian Yttervik on December 12, 2020

As some others have mentioned, wildly irregular sleep times can have very bad health impact. What was not mentioned (from what I've seen) and I now decided to post as an answer instead of comment, so the OP might have a chance of actually seeing it, not the replier I'd have posted that under:

Note, though, that perhaps an irregular sleeping pattern is not the only thing that can be bad. Also enforcing arbitrary, societal wake/sleep times may be bad, as in, forcing something that will ensure someone with not fitting inherently preferred sleep/wake time windows will not perform to their optimum because they are always sleep deprived.

Some scientists seem to reject the notion of "chronotype" - e.g. Satchin Panda in his book The Circadian Code, paperback, p.33 The Myth of Night Owls and Early Birds - he did not cite references for that insistence, IIRC. Matthew Walker, in his book Why we sleep very explicitly says in the section My rythm is not your rythm that your biologically preferred sleep/wake times were not choice. Basically, the same external synchronization signals (e.g. light) do not necessarily produce the same inner clock phase in every individual. Resulting in some people being able to fall asleep some hours later, or earlier (seems more rare) than others. What was not referenced in the book and I alas was unable to find a reference for quickly, is what I remember about this effect being still present, even though only about half as pronounced, when a group of test subjects was put on an island without artificially stretched length of day / individualized lighting conditions (i.e. electrical light). The "night owls" were still night owls, just by half the amount of hours that they were "in civilization". Note that this changes over younger age to roughly up to the late 20's or so. Alas, I do not remember authors names of this.

Both books mentioned, though, will give a lot of insight into all the health down sides of not properly sleeping - for what it's worth. Some of those may be easily grasped by your young child. I would just plea for really making her understand, as opposed to trying to trick her into obedience with scares - if one does not understand and is convinced of something onself and just uses something as a bludgeon, something will feel off, which I'd say is not good for relationships of mutual trust. (not implying you would, I don't know you - but I guess it could be tempting, if convincing by other means, that might make al lthe sens in the world to the parent, fail)

Answered by user1847129 on December 12, 2020

Day schedule builds personal resilience and will power.

This is something akin to wearing a seat belt in a car, life jacket in a boat and a hard hat in the construction site.

Answered by Helen on December 12, 2020

As an adult I have found that circadian rythms can drift with really no limit - at times when I had no job and no particular thing to do and took no particular care to manage my sleep schedule I could easily find myself completely nocturnal. Your daughter might not realize how easily this can happen because, well, she doesn't have experience setting her own sleep schedule. And it sounds like this is your main concern as well - you don't like the idea of her getting up at 4pm, you don't like her being out of sync with society at large and your household in particular.

So I think pointing this situation out could be sufficient to convince her, but also I want to note that if this is something you want to avoid, an outright bedtime might not be the only solution. After all as adults we can often do both - we'll keep a steady bedtime regularly, and occasionally we'll have a crazy weekend where we get up at ridiculous hours, or stay up late or pull all-nighters, and or travel and suffer jetlag, and then we'll get back to our regular schedule. It's possible that even if your daughter agrees that falling completely out of sync with everyone for an extended period is undesirable, she doesn't think "get up at 9am every morning" is the only alternative. If you focus on what you actually want and you talk it over with your daughter you might together be able to come up with solutions that meet your need, but are flexible enough to meet her own desires for independence and autonomy. Like, get up between 8 and 10 every morning but with one "cheat day" allowed a week and a review of the arrangement if "between 8 and 10" turns into "10 all the time". Or, allow staying up late but have specific strategies to help her re-sync when that happens (and that happen to incentivize her to avoid doing that, while giving her the freedom to do it occasionally if it's important to her). For example when I stay up late several nights in a row, I may force myself to get up early the next morning so that I'll be able to go to sleep early the next night. There are also sleep hygiene strategies like no screens before bedtime, exercise, etc.

I guess what I want to say is that in this post you seem to start out with the rules you want, and are trying to backport reasons to justify the rules. But you should do the opposite: figure out what you want, and then decide how you can best achieve it. This is what you did subconsciously, there's a reason you came up with these specific proposed rules, but when arguing this with your daughter I think you would be really better served with starting out with what you want, and then allowing the rules to develop from there, with allowances for what she wants (which, not having had the conversation, you might not know in detail yet). And for that you need a more conscious understanding of your reasoning that seems to be pretty implicit and subconscious so far.

Answered by Oosaka on December 12, 2020

In my experience, teens have short-sighted priorities and acts mostly from what they desire now. So let's look at it from the teen's perspective: Why should your teen get up early?

  • It keeps her sleep schedule on target for school. But that's literally months away!
  • It's healthy for her growth. Urgh
  • Your house, your rules. Double urgh

From her viewpoint, staying up late during the summer can be magical time (at least how I remember my youth). Things are simply different during night, and if daytime permits catching up on sleep, why not spend it talking with friends, binge movies, books, and comics, hang out in weird places, throughout the night? (Permitting they are safe activities)

Take a 2-legged approach:

  1. Make it worthwhile for her now to get up early, cf. waffle-competitions, outings and trips.
  2. Don't work around her delayed sleep schedule. If your house routine is breakfast at 7, vacuuming at 8 and mowing the lawn at 9, so be it. You will not avoid noisy household activities so she can sleep in because she would rather be up all night.

Give your teen the chance to show responsibility. If she can cope with being up all night and it doesn't bother you as a family, she can go ahead. But keep talking with her about her altered lifestyle affects her wellbeing and the family.

Regarding keeping a healthy sleeping schedule for back-to-school, discuss this with her. You could consider giving her free rein for the summer, if she agrees to get back on track the week prior to going back to school. There is of course no guarantee she will be able to keep this promise, but you could set up a reward for keeping her end of the bargain.

Answered by MrGumble on December 12, 2020

You will be helping her to form habits that will help her:

  1. Keeping a regular schedule is kind of helpful in making it to class, to a job, to social events, etc.
  2. Sleep is important. Lack of sleep interferes with learning, awareness, decision making, driving safety; degrades your health, shortens your life. One very accessible link (bit of a click-bait title): article
  3. Much more information in "Why We Sleep", Matthew Walker PhD

Answered by Technophile on December 12, 2020

  1. Sleeping during those years are crucial to growth spurts and development during puberty (as well as weight loss and muscle development)
  2. You also don’t want to throw off your circadian rhythm -- plenty of time for that in college
  3. Prolonged sleep may have negative health effects (heart disease, diabetes, etc);

Regardless of it being summer or during the school year, there’s always something to do even during the quarantine. My relatives took their SATs (and starred-out) as a freshman in high school. I know schools may not require SATs anymore, but is she that well-rounded to be able to do that? How would she place? Knowing where she is, is the first step to knowing what she’s got to do to improve.

Summer was never “free time” in our house. It was prep for the year to come, planning our studies, working out for sports, researching colleges (even in 9th grade), discovering interests, learning what questions to ask, and reading books. By comparison, there are kids on Shark Tank that are preparing to run a business, kids on YouTube that are ready to perform nationwide recitals, kids prepping to go to the Olympics.

There isn’t any right way to go. No written law says you have to do anything; so ultimately it comes down to how comfortable you are with them and their status and how comfortable they are, but these are the crucial years to establish good behaviors for preparing for the workforce, to develop good habits to being successful, or to gain an advantage over other summer slackers. Suffice to say, time is a limited commodity that should be capitalized on.

Answered by vol7ron on December 12, 2020

It sounds like there are a couple things going on here, from your answers to the comments.

  1. You think that due to social norms, she should fit in and go to bed when society deems acceptable.
  2. You'd like to spend time with your daughter while you're both awake, and would like to maximize that time.

Item #1 is a dead end. No teen in the world will ever care what the proper bed time is. You can try any form of command you like, she will sleep on her own schedule regardless.

Item #2 is what you should approach her with. The key is that you not say when she needs to go to bed - we've already established this is not within your control. A commenter pointed this out, but I'll reiterate because it's true: if you want to influence her behavior you need to give her a reason.

Want to entice her to wake up? How about a family waffle making contest - to be judged at 10am? Be prepared for negotiation. Maybe waking up for waffles isn't important to her, and she'd rather enter a taco contest to be judged at 1 instead.

It's important to be honest about what you want, and if what you want is unreasonable then you should expect her not to care. She won't care that at some nebulous time in her maybe-future she will need to wake up at 6 am. If that's true, why not maximize sleep now while she has the chance?

I'd start with: "I'd like to do something fun with you tomorrow, but you'll have to wake up in the morning - 'cause otherwise you'll miss it."

An astute reader will notice that this plan only works for one day - unless you like waffles enough to eat them every morning. You'll have to have a new family activity every day! Think about why she should change her behavior if you aren't going to do the same.

Answered by BinaryTox1n on December 12, 2020

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is important for your health. It's important for your overall health and for the health and quality of your sleep in the long-term.

Outside of the "my house, my rules" (which, in my opinion, is an important factor but not something to be lorded over them), studies at length have been conducted for the benefits of sleep and how poor sleep leads to even poorer sleep in a never-ending cycle. I'll add a few peer-reviewed studies below from the United States National Institute of Health below:

Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan

Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption

Relationships between sleep, physical activity and human health

Answered by SomeShinyObject on December 12, 2020

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