by Elizabeth Felipe
“If we can only understand what’s going on with sleep
in these sixth-, seventh- and eighth graders,
we can intervene to change their sleep behavior before it gets out of hand.”
Psychologist Amy R. Wolfson, Ph.D., College of the Holy Cross
According to the Mayo Clinic, teens require at least nine hours of sleep each night in order to function in all their youthful energy. Unfortunately, today’s teens actually sleep far less each night, thanks to variables such as early-morning classes, part-time work, school studies, social networking, and the magnetic pull of computers and smartphones.
In a recent study published in the Journal of School Health, more than 90% of teens admitted to sleeping less than the recommended nine hours a night. Even more worrisome to parents, 10% of teens participating in the same study reported sleeping less than six hours a night.
Why is this trend so worrisome?
“Almost all teen-agers, as they reach puberty, become walking zombies because they are getting far too little sleep,” comments Cornell University psychologist James B. Maas, PhD, one of the nation’s leading sleep experts.
A teen’s zombie-like approach to school and home life reaches into many other areas of his or her life. A few of them include:
Asleep At The Wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, drowsiness and fatigue cause more than 100,000 traffic accidents each year — and young drivers are at the wheel in more than half of these crashes.
Grades Without Rest – Behind the Scenes In a 1998 survey of more than 3,000 high-school students, psychologists from Brown University found that students who reported that they were getting C’s, D’s and F’s in school obtained about 25 minutes less sleep and went to bed about 40 minutes later than students who reported they were getting A’s and B’s.
Sleeplessness: Exacerbating Mental Illness Adolescent sleep difficulties are often associated with psychopathologies such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Obviously then, lacking a sufficient nine- to ten hour night of sleep harms teens in a myriad of troubling ways. Parents, experiencing these negative ramifications more than anyone else, search for answers. On their extremely helpful online site, the Mayo Clinic offers parents a list of potential solutions to take control of their teens’ sleep and help them towards the nine and a half hours they desperately need:
1) Adjust the lighting.
As bedtime approaches, dim the lights. Then turn off the lights during sleep. In the morning, expose your teen to bright light. These simple cues can help signal when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up.
2) Stick to a schedule.
Tough as it may be, encourage your teen to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — even on weekends. Prioritize extracurricular activities and curb late-night social time as needed. If your teen has a job, limit working hours to no more than 16 to 20 hours a week.
3) Nix long naps.
If your teen is drowsy during the day, a 30-minute nap after school might be refreshing. Be cautious, though. Too much daytime shut-eye might only make it harder to fall asleep at night.
4) Curb the caffeine.
A jolt of caffeine might help your teen stay awake during class, but the effects are fleeting — and too much caffeine can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
5) Keep it calm.
Encourage your teen to wind down at night with a warm shower, a book or other relaxing activities. Discourage stimulating activities — including vigorous exercise, loud music, video games, television, computer use and text messaging — an hour or two before bedtime.
6) Know when to unplug.
Take the TV out of your teen’s room, or keep it off at night. The same goes for your teen’s cellphone, computer and other electronic gadgets.
7) Avoid large, high-fat meals late in the day.
Studies have shown that eating a large meal close to bedtime may make it harder to fall asleep.
8) Sleeping pills and other medications generally aren’t recommended.
For many teens, lifestyle changes can effectively improve sleep.
9) If possible, maintain a regular sleep schedule for your teen.
Avoid stimulating light and noise — such as from a TV or computer — around bedtime. If they use their phone or tablet in bed, advise your teen to turn down the brightness and hold the device at least 14 inches (36 centimeters) away from his or her face to reduce the risk of sleep disruption.
10) Take control.
Check your teen’s phone in for the night! Is your teen texting, surfing social media sites, and browsing the internet from his or her phone when he should be sleeping? Here’s how to take control:
Finally, there is hope for you to regain your teen’s attention and his or her nine hours of
sleep! Don’t get discouraged! Try out these ten tips and take back your teens’ dreams.
1. “What to Expect if Your Teen Isn’t Getting 9 Hours of Sleep a Night” (House of Hope Rhode Island)
2. “Insomnia: Will a Bedtime Snack Help Me Sleep Better?” (Mayo Clinic)
3. “Teen Sleep: Why Is Your Teen So Tired?” (Mayo Clinic)
4. “Sleep Deprivation May Be Undermining Teen Health” (American Psychological Association)