According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, more than 87 percent of high school students living in the U.S. sleep far less than the recommended eight to ten hours a night. This sleep debt brings a myriad of consequences including increasing the risk of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and poor grades. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics identified the problem of tired teens as a public health epidemic.
Do Teens Actually Need More Rest?
Up until the age of 10, children are on a somewhat regular circadian rhythm. When they reach the age of 10, they generally shift to what is called a “sleep delay”. This new rhythm tends to provide them with a burst of energy around 9 or 10 p.m. and increase their need to sleep an additional hour or two in the morning. With most junior high and high schools beginning classes between 7:20 and 8 a.m., teens are missing that extra hour or two of sleep that is essential for their well-being.
What Can Parents Do to Help?
Parents play an important role in helping their teens establish healthy sleep hygiene. Here are some tips to help begin the conversation at home.
- Get on a schedule. Encourage your teen to consistently go to bed around the same time, and wake around the same time, even on the weekends.
- Create a homework routine. Encourage your teen to establish a pattern for homework time. Will they begin their homework as soon as they get home? Or after basketball practice?
- Encourage them to leave their rooms and go outside for a walk after dinner. Getting out for a short walk can help with their circadian rhythm and also decrease anxiety.
- Create a bedtime routine. Suggest to your teen that an hour before bedtime they turn off all screens, use the restroom and relax in their room. Do your part by dimming the lights in your home in the late evening.
- Sign your teen up for a mindfulness class. Being present decreases anxiety and depression and allows the mind to rest. Practicing mindfulness can help teens learn how to unwind in a quicker manner. Mindfulness programs are available at El Camino Hospital.
- If they need to use electronic devices in the evening, help your teen find a way to adjust the brightness on the device through changing the setting. Most phones have a timer feature that will adjust the brightness of the screen by time of day. For example, set the timer to dim from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m.
- Watch their dessert choices. If your teen is eating a pint of ice cream at 10 p.m. that sugar intake will not aid in a healthy night’s sleep.
Create an expectation for your teen that over the course of a few weeks their body will adjust and they will feel the difference of being well-rested. Emulate the behavior you want to see in your teen, make sleep a priority for the whole family and they will take note.