Pediatricians are so concerned about chronic sleep deprivation in teens, they recently recommended that the school day for U.S. middle and high school students begin no earlier than 8:30 am. Physicians say many of their teen patients are “pathologically sleepy,” or suffering real health effects from too little sleep. You might ask, “Why would we rearrange the world to accommodate sleepy kids, rather than simply forcing earlier bedtimes?” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s because the latest research shows that an adolescent child’s sleep cycle shifts forward about two hours. This makes it almost impossible for them to fall asleep before 11:00 pm on average. Add to that the fact that growing teens need 9-10 hours of sleep per night, and the AAP recommendation begins to make more sense.
Physicians say many of their teen patients are “pathologically sleepy,” or suffering real health effects from too little sleep.
You may not be able to influence your kids’ school district to get on board with these guidelines, but everything you can do to help your child get the rest she needs will help. Ensuring that she gets consistently good rest will help her to be physically and emotionally healthier and perform better in school, sports, and social relationships.
Read on to find out how you can help your teens avoid the “pathological sleepiness” doctors observe in so many of their peers.
1. Help Your Teen Stay on a Schedule
We all get better rest if sleep and wake times are kept pretty standard from day-to-day. This is tough with teens who juggle school, sports, part-time jobs and busy social lives. But the experts at the Mayo Clinic say parents should help teens curb radical schedule changes as much as possible. In other words, even if you don’t have to get up for school the next day, staying up until 3:00 am playing video games or socializing on the weekend is a bad idea and may disrupt the sleep-wake cycle for several days after.
2. Help Your Teen Make Good Choices with Time Commitments
Just like some small children put more on their plates than they can eat, sometimes teens get involved in more activities than they can reasonably handle. If your teen has a job, limit work hours to 20 or less each week. Help them project how much practice and prep time each extracurricular will require when they sign up, and discourage overcommitment.
3. Understand the Effect of Screens on Sleep
Most parents probably think if they force teens to turn off electronics at bedtime, they’ve done all they can. But the hour before bedtime should be a screen-free zone as well. The lights from backlit screens stimulate the brain and make it difficult to fall asleep for some time after they’re off. If you find it difficult to limit your teen’s screen exposure that early in the evening, at least require them to turn down the brightness of the screen in the hour before bedtime to lessen the negative effect at lights out.
4. Use Bright Light in the Mornings
The same bright light that’s a negative late at night can be your friend in the morning. It signals to the brain that it’s time to wake up! Giving your teen a dose of bright light in the form of household lights and open curtains first thing in the morning helps establish the right sleep-wake rhythm.
5. Watch Out for Caffeine
With more teens getting into the U.S. coffee culture, many are taking in higher levels of caffeine than parents realize. If your teen struggles with sleep issues, pay attention to how much caffeine they’re drinking in the form of gourmet coffee, soft drinks, and energy drinks. The quick jolt of energy they receive on the front end doesn’t come without a cost.
Every member of the family—including mom and dad—needs good sleep. Learn more about why sleep is so important to total health and wellness in Why is Sleep Important?.
For more information about the new recommendations from pediatricians, read the full article on this subject at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website.
How do you help your teens get the sleep they need each night?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.