Teens and Sleep: A Bedtime Story

teenager-and-sleep

You are looking at a photo of my daughter. Here are a few of the things she accomplishes while in bed: doing homework, creating music videos, watching television, texting, thinking, reading, snacking.

As a matter of fact, each night as the time approaches late-thirty, it can be argued the one thing she seldom seems to do in her bed is sleep. Until she does manage to fall asleep, that is, at which point many lifetimes pass before she returns to a waking state.

What is it with teens and sleep? Well, I’m going to tell you a bedtime story:

Once upon a time we are born. We sleep we cry we eat we cry. We sleep. As we grow older, these procedures become more regulated and the crying, gah willing, reduces.

In youth, our circadian rhythms, which act as our inner clock, make us sleepy at 9pm. But as we move past adolescence and into puberty, our inner clock skews toward later hours. This means the cues of tired that once hit at 9pm now wait until 11pm. And waking up becomes a struggle in the very early morning. This shift results from a combination of biological and situational reasons, both pointing to the hormone melatonin.

In teenage years, hormones rage, and according to an article in kidshealth.org, the pubescent brain produces melatonin later at night than adulthood, making sleep difficult. Of course, which came first, the wakefulness or the melatonin? Late production of melatonin could also be the result of situational factors, such as staying up late to do homework, edit music videos, watch TV, text, think, read, and snack.

Teens need approximately 9 1/4 hours of sleep a night according to sleepfoundation.org, although some kids function very well sleeping only 8 1/2 hours. My daughter would be hard pressed to name one person among her friends who actually gets the required hours of sleep.

The effects of not sleeping are well known, and include: loss of concentration, mood swings, physical underperformance, depression, and tiredness.

Regardless, it’s a struggle to get our teenagers to adhere to a more family-friendly less moody sleep cycle. But the moral of this story is, their very abnormal sleep cycle behavior is actually very normal, for a teenager, and  for the most part out of their control.

There is little your teen can do to adjust certain elements — such as the early start time of most high schools and the work demands leading up to college which promote late bedtimes — but the following tips could help your teen gain a few more hours a week and establish a good bedtime routine for life:

  • Set a regular bedtime and try to stick with it. This will help with the regulating of the inner clock
  • Give yourself cues that bedtime is approaching by darkening the room, turning off electronics, reading a chapter of a book, reading a chapter of something else — you get the point here: it’s about creating habits which tell the body what’s next
  • Exercise and get plenty of fresh air by day
  • Do not exercise and get plenty of fresh air by night — or at least not directly prior to sleeping, since this will act as a stimulant
  • Drop all stimulants from your diet, especially near bedtime, such as soda, chocolate, coffee, crack cocaine, stimulants, etc
  • Do not nap during the day
  • Do not nap at night. If you do, call it sleep and make sure it lasts nine hours
  • Wake up with bright light in the room. Hopefully this is called the sun

The end!

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