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Is Your Teen Sleeping Enough?

teen sleeping at desk

Are they being lazy? Why do they sleep all day long and then stay up all night?

During a routine well visit, my son's pediatrician told me that when our kids reach puberty, they begin to stay up late and tend to sleep later in the day. No, he assured me, they are not being lazy.

After further research I found that teens seem to develop the late night/late morning sleeping routine because their circadian rhythms change. Circadian rhythms are our body's natural 24 hour metabolic rhythm. This rhythm affects things such as temperature, hormonal changes sleep/wake patterns and other physiological and biological processes (our internal body clock).

Upon further digging, I found that circadian rhythms change because of a hormone called melatonin. This hormone regulates our body's sleep/wake cycles. Apparently teens produce their melatonin later at night than the rest of the human race. This is why they have a need to go to sleep later and wake up later.

How much sleep do teens need?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, (NSF) adolescents should get between 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep. This is next to impossible with their current school/activity schedules. Right when their bodies are telling them to go to bed late and sleep late, their High School forces them to get up early.

My heart goes out to my teen and others. They have to concentrate on grades, become well rounded students in order to apply and be accepted to the college of their choice (or parent's). There's peer pressure, youth ministries, gymnastics, football, basketball and/or a part time job. With all of these pressures, the only way they can even try to meet their obligations is to try to ignore their rhythm and miss some of their much needed sleep.

Affects of missed sleep:

In a 2006 poll on teens and sleep conducted by NSF, they found more than one half of adolescents reported that they felt too tired/sleepy during the day (51%) and or had difficulty falling asleep (51%) at least once a week within the past two weeks.

Medical research shows that there is a direct connection between lack of sleep and the following:

Inefficient information processing
Increased irritability
Temporarily lowered IQ (while sleep deprived)
Falling asleep in class (research states 20% of HS students do this).
Poor athletic performance
Slow reaction time in driving.

Remedies for lack of sleep:

What can we do to help our teens get an adequate amount of sleep? Let's face it, they are no longer toddlers so we can't put them in their cribs and make them take a nap. However, there are a few things that can be done to help them out: 

Set consistent sleep/wake times, including weekends. Sometimes it's difficult to adhere to these schedules because of other obligations, but do the best you can.

They should relax for about a half hour before going to bed. Cut out stimulating things like TV, videogames and the computer. Try reading instead.

Avoid caffeine, especially after lunch.

Make the bedroom comfortable, cool and dark for sleeping and let the light shine in the morning. The light/dark cycles send signals the brain for sleeping and waking.

Avoid all night cram sessions. Remember, the brain, like the rest of the body, needs rest too. It works better when it's well rested.

Nutrition and exercise. A balanced diet along with adequate exercise promotes deep restful sleep.

Nap. Sometimes a nap strategically placed during the day can serve as a pick me up. The nap should not be too long or else it will affect night time sleeping.

Raising teens is a tough job. Who knows, a properly rested teenager might be a very agreeable teenager. Good Luck!