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Teens, Sleep and the Lack Of It

Well, here we are! It’s the end of summer, and another school year has started.

As most of you know, my blog posts about sleep usually focus on infants and toddlers. For now, I’m stepping out of the box to look at sleep among teenagers, or more accurately, LACK of sleep among teenagers.

According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep deprivation among young adults is at epidemic proportions.

Many teenagers flock back to school with a feeling of excitement. They want to be liked, to belong, and to succeed academically. Maybe they want to participate in new activities, experience the responsibility and financial benefit of holding a part-time job, or hang out with friends. Whatever the reason, teenagers are filling their lives with more activities than a healthy lifestyle can support.

Our biological clocks work best if our sleep is consistent.

When we are running on one schedule during the week, another on Saturday, and yet another on Sunday, we throw off our body’s rhythms, causing exhaustion.

This sleep-time discrepancy between school nights and weekends is the biggest culprit.

Between attending school, struggling with homework and maybe extra credit projects, playing sports and instruments, participating in other extracurricular activities, working at part-time jobs, spending time with friends, texting and social networking—not to mention, eating, maintaining general hygiene, and driving to all of the above—teenagers have little time left for sleep.

Sleep is the last thing on their minds. Until it’s time to wake up!

Teens need 8.5 or 9.5 hours of sleep each night, and just “catching up” on sleep over the weekend doesn’t cut it.

According to Dead on their Feet by Joan Esherick, sleep deprivation increases memory lapses, accidents, injuries, mood problems, behavior problems, time needed to process information and decreases athletic ability, the ability to focus or concentrate, reaction time, alertness, the ability to learn, the ability to recall what you’ve learned, and the quality of work or performance.In Dead on their Feet, Esherick lists the National Heart, Lung, and Blood lnstitute’s five reasons to encourage our teens to get enough sleep:

1)   Drowsy drivers crash their cars.

2)   Drowsy teens react more slowly and perform worse in sports.

3)   Drowsy teens do poorly in school and have problems socially.

4)   Drowsy teens have trouble making good decisions.

5)   Drowsy teens don’t look their best.

Think back to when your children were babies. No one had to tell you when your little one needed a nap. No one had to tell you what your little one would be like if he or she didn’t get that nap.

When our children are young, we have relative control over how much and what kind of sleep they get. We make sure to follow a nap routine. We provide sleep aids like warm baths, black-out curtains, white noise machines, quiet storytime, and a favorite lovey or pillow.

Most of these things can still work for teenagers and for YOU.

It is much harder (I know this!) to control the amount of sleep your teenager gets, but it is worth the effort.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have done things with my teen children very differently.

I would have respected and encouraged their need for sleep. I just didn’t “get it.” I’d have instilled better sleep and study habits. I’d have talked to them about the importance of various activities and suggested possibly cutting back to make room for the ones they truly loved. I’d have limited screen and social media time. I’d have pushed harder for “wind-down time,” involving reading or meditation. I’d have given them some of the relaxing sleep rituals and aids they had as infants.

As parents, we want our kids to take advantage of all life presents them. What we don’t realize is how much this contributes to sleep deprivation. Be aware! Encourage them to make good choices and to put their personal need to rest and recover above a fun night out!

Good luck and sweet dreams!

Authored by: Elaine Osterhout, The Goddess of Sleep