Bedtime Cues Matter for Teens

How do you know when it’s time to go to bed?

Recently, researchers in Australia and Finland looked at how teenagers answer that question, and whether the way they answer it has implications for sleep quality.

In a survey of 1,374 adolescents, the researchers considered several different ways these teens might decide when it’s time to call it a night. These included:

  • Having their parents set a bedtime for them
  • Going to bed when they feel tired
  • Going to bed when they finish their homework
  • Going to bed when they’re done socializing and messaging their friends
  • Going to bed when the television show they’re watching is over

Teenagers with these different bedtime cues tended to go to bed at different times. Those whose parents set their bedtimes or who went to bed when they were tired tended to go to bed earlier. As a result, they got better sleep on weekdays, when they had to get up early for school, but not on weekends.

By contrast, teens who waited until they were done socializing, messaging or watching TV had the latest bedtimes and the worst sleep on weekdays. Those who went to bed when they finished their homework were somewhere in the middle.

As the authors of the study point out, there are two different approaches that seem to be optimal. One is to set a concrete bedtime for adolescents, and the other is to encourage them to listen to their bodies and go to bed when they feel tired. Both of these types of cues seem to be better than going to bed whenever other activities happen to be done.

There’s a more general takeaway for us about sleep cues. Rather than focusing only on when we go to sleep, it can be helpful to think about how we decide when it’s time for sleep.