Does your teen get all of the sleep that he or she needs? Chances are good that the answer is no. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most teens need about nine hours of sleep each night. The average teen gets a little over seven hours of sleep. As you might imagine, this chronic sleep deprivation can have consequences. Teens who don’t get enough sleep can see their grades fall, they can get into accidents, and they can experience mood symptoms, like irritation, anxiety, and even depression. If you are concerned that your teenager is suffering from sleep deprivation, there are steps that you can take to help them get the sleep they need. Here is some useful information about teens and sleeping, as well as some tips on how to help your teen get a full night of sleep.
Understand Your Teen’s Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is what tells us when to sleep and when to be awake over the period of 24 hours. In young children, it makes them tired early in the evening. Do you remember putting your child to bed at 7:00 or 8:00 pm? As puberty approaches, however, the circadian rhythm changes. Teens tend not to feel sleepy until much later in the evening. In fact, in many households, teenagers are up later than their parents.
While this wouldn’t be a problem if the teens could then sleep in every day, school schedules generally dictate that teens rise early. If your son or daughter is not falling asleep until 11:00 pm or later, then has to get up at 6:00 am to catch the bus five days per week, he or she might be suffering from sleep deprivation. They might try to make up for it by sleeping in until 10:00 or 11:00 am on the weekends, but all this does is throw off the circadian rhythm even more. It can become a vicious cycle.
How Technology Contributes to Sleep Deficits
It’s no secret that teenagers are using their smartphones, tablets, and laptops to communicate with their friends and explore the internet at all hour of the day and night. It’s likely that your sleep-deprived teen is spending time before bed staring at a screen. This can be stimulating in a few different ways. First, the act of Snapchatting, Facebooking, Instagramming, and YouTubing are stimulating in and of themselves. It can be hard to sleep once your teen has immersed him- or herself in the drama-filled lives of the teenage world.
Secondly, the lighting of the phone or device itself can disrupt melatonin production. Since melatonin is what helps you drift off to sleep, it makes sense that altering the production of the hormone can lead to insomnia. Not being able to sleep might prompt your teen to take out that phone again, further disrupting his or her sleep. This is a common reason why a teen might not be able to fall asleep even though the clock reads midnight or later.
Stress Is Also a Problem
Today’s teens are under a lot of stress. They are taking difficult academic classes in the hopes that their good grades will help them earn scholarships and college admittance. They are often also participating in extracurricular activities, such as sports or drama club. They might also have a part-time job. In addition, teens need to juggle chores and other household responsibilities. All of this together can add up and cause stress.
Just as you might find it hard to sleep the night before a big meeting or when you know you need to do your taxes, teens can find it difficult to settle down and drift off when their minds are racing. Learning some strategies for quieting their thoughts can help teens and parents fall asleep more easily.
Consistency and Rules Are Key
While you probably haven’t been enforcing a bedtime in a few years, you might need to enact some rules when it comes to your teenager and his or her sleep patterns. Talk to your teen about the need for good sleep and the consequences of sleep deprivation. Figure out why they think they’re not getting enough. Just a chat about how stress and cellphone use can contribute to a sleep deficit might be enough. If it’s not, though, then you’re going to have to step in and impose some rules.
One policy that is good for all members of the family is to leave all cellphones in the kitchen or another common area of the home after a certain hour. Set up a charging station and insist that all phones (including your own) be plugged in by 10:00 (or whatever time seems reasonable to you). This will help everyone get better sleep.
You might also need to work with your teen on better time management. If he or she is feeling stressed all the time and it’s affecting sleep, then some changes need to be made. A few tweaks may be enough; if not, it’s possible that your teenager will need to drop an activity in order to manage their time.
Watch for Health Problems Leading to Sleep Deprivation
If a few lifestyle changes aren’t helping, then it’s possible that your teenager has some type of medical or mental health problem that needs to be addressed. For example, if your teen snores frequently and often feels tired despite going to bed early, they might have sleep apnea. A teen suffering with anxiety might not be able to sleep well despite limitations on cellphone use and an enforced lights-out time. Talk to your child’s physician about tests that can be done to screen for issues that could lead to insomnia or poor sleep.
Getting to the root of why your teenager is not getting enough sleep will help them not only now, but also for years to come. Set a good example by getting enough sleep yourself, and show your teen that sleep is an essential part of his or her health, just like a sensible diet and getting enough exercise. Don’t be afraid to turn to his or her physician and to ask for a referral to a sleep specialist or a counselor if necessary. Taking control of his or her sleep is a good way for your teen to stay both physically and mentally healthy now and into adulthood.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.