This guest post is submitted by Sara Westgreen, a sleep science researcher from tucksleep
If you have trouble waking your teenager in the morning, you’re not alone. Teens face many biological and social changes that affect their sleep-wake cycle. Navigating through these changes takes patience and some discipline. But, you can help your teen to get the high-quality sleep he needs to enhance academic performance, manage stress, and develop healthy sleep habits that carry on into adulthood.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on the body, especially the teen body with its unique needs. Lack of sleep causes neurons in the brain to slow down, altering reasoning ability, decision-making skills, and reaction times. Sleep deprivation puts teens at higher risk for obesity and diabetes because of hormonal changes that make it more difficult to control appetite. The immune system also takes a substantial hit from lack of sleep. It does not have time to repair the body during the night nor can it recharge itself to perform its duties during the day, making sleep-deprived teens susceptible to more (and longer) illnesses.
Changes in the Adolescent Sleep-Wake Cycle
The sleep-wake cycle is controlled by the body’s circadian rhythms. These rhythms follow a regular 24-hour cycle and influence everything from the sleep cycle to body temperature, appetite, and hormonal changes. During puberty, many teens experience a shift in their circadian rhythms called sleep phase delay wherein teens start to feel tired at 10 or 11 pm rather than 8 or 9 pm. It may seem like your teen has insomnia, but his body is trying to adjust to natural changes.
Changes in School Schedules
At around the same time as your teen experiences sleep phase delay, he may also face earlier school start times. Junior highs and high schools often have the earliest start times in a school district with many starting at or before 7:30 am. These early start times make it difficult for teens to get in the full eight to ten hours of sleep they need. Some schools have experimented with 8:30 am or later start times and reported an increase in academic performance, student behavior, and a decrease in vehicle accidents.
A Full Teen Schedule
The typical teen has a busy schedule that could include a part-time job, extracurricular activities, homework, and busy social life. Many of those obligations may cause your teen to get to bed late or to experience stress that causes sleep disturbances. Stress is a major cause of sleep loss, and the pressure on teens to perform can be high.
When you take the biological changes along with academic and social transitions facing teens, it’s no wonder they have trouble getting enough rest. However, there are ways you can help your teen to develop good sleep habits while teaching them to manage stress and a busy schedule.
Building Better Sleep Habits
All the habits in your teen’s life from what he eats to his activity level and how much television he watches can affect his ability to sleep at night. Building the right habits can make it easier to fall and stay asleep so your teen can get the rest he needs to function at his best.
Start by taking a good look at his bedroom. While it might be cluttered, you’re not there to look at the mess, but the conditions in which he tries to sleep. A teen’s bed should be comfortable without any lumps, bumps, or sags. At night, his bedroom should be kept dark, quiet, and cool with the temperature somewhere between 60-68 degrees. A cooler room helps maintain the low body temperature necessary for comfortable sleep.
After the right conditions, you can model and encourage your teen to develop good sleep habits like:
A Consistent Bedtime: This is a tough one for teens, especially if their schedule changes throughout the week. However, consistency helps the body establish healthy circadian rhythms, which in turn, helps your teen feel tired at the same time every day.
A Consistent Wake-Up Time: This is another challenging habit to change if teens like to sleep in on the weekends, but a regular schedule allows the body to establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Bedtime Routine: Your teen might think he’s too old for a bedtime routine, but people of all ages can benefit from one. The body thrives on a bedtime routine because it helps send relaxation signals to the brain, so it knows when to start releasing sleep hormones. A routine can include anything relaxing like a warm bath, reading a book (but not on an e-reader), or listening to quiet, calm music. When the activities are performed at the same time in the same order each day, the brain recognizes and follows the established pattern, helping your teen fall asleep easier at night.
Avoid Stimulants: Energy drinks, coffee, and soda full of caffeine temporarily block the effects of sleep hormones like melatonin. Caffeine should be avoided for at least the four hours before bedtime, if not more for teens whose bodies may be more sensitive to its effects.
Limit Screen Time: The bright blue light from electronic devices like smartphones, televisions, and e-readers suppresses melatonin production. Using these devices before bed can leave your teen tossing and turning late into the night. Turn off the screens, including video games, at least an hour before bed to prevent sleep disturbances.
About the Author
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.