Here’s the tricky thing:
- Teens need 8½ to 9¼ hours sleep a night, but many don’t feel like going to bed much before midnight and most have to get up for school less than seven hours later.
- At the same time their lives are filling up with extra studying, hobbies, socialising, and social media. Time for sleep is being squeezed.
- For many teenagers, parental bedtime restrictions have eased and limitations on screen time have been also relaxed.
This is leading to chronic sleep deprivation.
Lack of sleep slows down the body’s systems leading to :
- poor performance academically, physically, and emotionally
- difficulty concentrating and remembering
- slower and less able in sport
- loss of motivation
- slower healing and more susceptible to illness and injury
- poor skin, acne, pallor
- food cravings, poor diet choices, nocturnal eating, and weight gain
- feeling sadness, hopelessness and depression
- moodiness, irritability, aggression, impulsivity
- feelings of anxiety and stress, which can in turn hinder sleep
Do you recognise these symptoms of sleep-lack as being those characteristics commonly ascribed to teens? Teens have a bad reputation but perhaps they are simply displaying signs of sleep deprivation.
Perhaps teens are not innately moody and unmotivated
but are suffering from insufficient sleep.
Statistics show that those teens on insufficient sleep are more prone to suicidal feelings, and are more likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, or zone out on the computer. Those parents concerned about these things would do well to attend to their teen’s sleep needs – possibly a simple and effective solution to a complex problem.
Sleep is brain food. Teens especially need it to support the growth spurt and sexual maturation that is occurring – as a hormone essential to both is released during sleep. At a time when increased demands are being made academically, teens need to be alert and able to function well. Adolescence is a time of huge shifts in self-awareness, socially and emotionally, and teens need not to be hampered by poor mood.
Teens love a lie-in but loathe an early night. Research shows that during the teen years the circadian rhythms temporarily change, with a later release of the ‘darkness hormone’ melatonin, which makes teens naturally stay up later and want to lie in longer.
If your teen needs to rise at seven on weekdays, they need to be going to bed by ten, in the hope of being asleep by ten-thirty in order to achieve the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended minimum of 8½ hours nightly sleep. However many will not feel the impulse to go to bed until at least midnight – which means that their imposed daily schedule is at odds with their natural sleep cycle. Experiments with a later school start time for teenagers have resulted in much improved performance and behaviour. Home educated children are at an advantage here, if they can be allowed to rise later.
Parents are essential in assisting in their teen’s sleep.
Think back to those early years, when your baby needed your full attention where sleep was concerned. You are called upon again in the teen years to give a similar quality of attention to their sleep needs. Obviously, what is needed from you now is totally different, but expect to give it as much of your energy. Gone are those years of middle childhood where bedtime routines are established and switching off the light heralds adult-time in the evenings.
Teens often come to life in the evening. If you are available, you may find that they choose bedtime as the ideal time for talking about their day and spilling out their worries. Many parents find this to be a crucial opportunity for connection, which may not happen during the day. You will need to be willing to interrupt your own evening, to join your teen for a bit at their bedtime.
In the teen years, parents are in a process of handing over responsibility to their adolescents, so the imposition of a bedtime is no longer appropriate. Badgering a teen to go to bed just will not work! Instead, our growing children need to understand for themselves the advantages of getting to bed in good time, and discuss with you how they might ensure that they have enough sleep. Then you help.
- regular bed-time and wake-time gets the body into the habit of getting enough sleep
- regular exercise, but not just before bed
- restful activity before bed – a book, music, bath, low lights – avoid screens and snacking
- make the bedroom a cool, dark, sleep haven
- read to them, sit on the edge of the bed to chat in the dark, potter about on the landing
- model good-bedtime-behaviour yourself
It might be this simple:- a good night’s sleep, night after night, may be the answer to many of the problems experienced by teens, and their parents!