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I have two daughters, 12 and 15 years old.

The younger goes to sleep at about 9 and wakes up for school at 7 so she gets around 10 hours of sleep, but her older sister is up until around 11:30pm doing homework. She finishes school at 4:30, rides the train home (arrives at 5:30), has dance practise every other day for two hours (6-8pm) then has to practise piano, so she doesn't even start her homework until around 9, then she has to have dinner and she still wants to relax and watch TV.

Since she has to get up for school at 6:30, she's only getting around 6-7 hours sleep. She always seems to be really tired and that is affecting her mood. She has to do dance and piano as she has her grade 8 coming up and she's auditioning for a performing arts summer school. How much sleep should she be getting and how can she fit it in to her busy schedule?

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As for the recommended amount of sleep, sources vary - most state between seven and nine hours for teens, with a rather new study suggesting that the lower amount may be linked to better academic performance.

If you read them carefully, you will soon notice that individual needs can vary and current recommendations usually add the caveat that each child must be seen as individual. Not unlike for adults: some will be happy and awake after five or six hours, others tend to be in a "zombie trance" if they don't get nine or more hours.

So in theory your daughter might be fine with seven hours, but from what you write, this seems to be not the case:

she always seems to be really tired and that is affecting her mood

Note thas she is at an age where she has a lot of "growing" going on, both physically and mentally. Especially her brain is right in the middle of a major re-structuring process, going from child to young adult. Sufficient rest and above all, sleep, is important. A lot of wild things are happening in her brain while she seemingly "does nothing, just sleeps".

You seem to have a strenuous schedule and I'm not convinced that it is just the lack of sleep that wears her out. We do have a "don't argue with the premises" policy here on Parenting SE, but allow me to play devil's advocate here. Let's just take all "she has to" points:

  • has to get up at 6:30
    Can you shave off just a tiny bit of her morning routine? I know she's fifteen, but how about less / quicker make-up and hairstyle? Can you pack her lunch instead of her doing it herself? Perhaps (and I don't really like the suggestion) breakfast on the train instead of at home?

  • has to take the train
    Ok, probably that is fixed, but how about using that time for homework? Reading exercises, vocabulary and studying for tests all don't require a desk and might be more effective at 5pm instead of at 11pm.
    Or this can be a dedicated time to relax and socialize, especially if she rides together with friends.

  • has dance practise every other day
    This makes three afternoons, if I calculate correctly. Would her performance be so much worse if she does only two? You obviously can't build strength without actually practising, but mentally rehearsing or going through the motions is a proven technique to practise without actually doing the moves. Many professional athletes use it and I can confirm that it works. Again: think of those two hours on the train. Note that excessive training may increase the risk of injury, destroying all the work that alrady went into her dancing.

  • has to do piano practise
    Again: can you reduce the frequency? Alternating between dancing and piano sounds reasonable. The point of excessive strain on her fingers is the same as above.

  • has to do homework
    Yes. And no. Did you consider cutting down the effort she puts into school? Sometimes it's a question of efficiency, not of the sheer number of pages written etc. Have you talked to her teachers whether she can reduce the workload if the dancing and piano are a serious career option? You might be able to work out an arrangement or find out that you consider school more important than dancing and piano.

  • has to do dance and piano as she's auditioning for performing arts summer school
    What would happen if she either doesn't audition or fails? How "good" is she already with regard to what is expected? Ask yourself: how important is that summer school for her future life? I don't think she will be a professional piano player and dancer in the future.

Your daughter is fifteen. At that age, you should discuss the points above together as a family and decide which route you want to take. As I see it, carrying on as is will probably cause too much stress on your whole family (if one member is constantly grumpy, for example). If she chooses to keep up her schedule, it will cut into her "relax" time in the evenings because she aparently needs more sleep than she's getting at the moment. Remember that watching TV is not supporting good sleep either, finding other ways of "winding down" would be better.

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    This is a great balance of needs and should be a big help when starting conversations about priorities. (All the listed activities, even socializing, become easier when one has had enough sleep!)
    – Acire
    Feb 25 '16 at 13:57
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My 17.5 year old gets about the same amount of sleep as Alexa, but he is a senior with 5 AP classes, 2 varsity sports, and a million extracurriculars. I feel that lack of sleep is affecting his performance too. But at his age I can't really control his choices: he chose his classes, his sports and his extracurriculars, though I wanted him to pick fewer of each.

On that basis, I would feel Alexa, being two years younger, is quite overloaded if she is similar to my kids. I would be worried about her lack of sleep too. Unless she is an unusual child, I would expect that it is probably not enough sleep for her. Need for sleep is so personal - but at her age I would expect her to need a solid extra hour of sleep than she is getting. I would love to be able to give you a solution to compensate for lack of time (I could use that too...) but I think the only solution would be to offload some of her activities:(

Based on my kids, Stephanie's sleep patterns looks fine to me.

My answers are based on my limited experience as a parent:-)

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