Teens and sleep

Teenagers have sleep patterns that can be both confusing and frustrating for parents. However, current research indicates adolescents have “internal clocks” that differ from adults and younger children.

Teenagers tend to stay up late, have issues with waking up in the morning and often complain about being tired. As a parent, you might find that your teen’s unusual sleep patterns hit a “parental nerve.” The good news is that this behavior is quite normal and there is actually a physical cause for why an adolescent’s internal clock differs from adults or kids.

According to the Mayo Clinic everyone has an internal clock that not only controls sleep cycles, but also influences body temperature, appetite and hormone changes. The body’s circadian rhythm, which acts like an internal biological clock, is reset during the teen years, telling the person to fall asleep and wake up later. Experts believe this change might be happening because a brain hormone, called melatonin, is being produced later at night for teens – this makes it harder for them to go to sleep earlier.

It’s also important to remember that the teenage years are a very busy time in life. Most teens have to fit school, sports and, or extracurricular activities, studying and work into their everyday schedules which may cause them to get only six to seven hours of sleep a night. A few hours of missed sleep may not seem like a big deal, but Michigan State University Extension says most teens require nine or more hours to function at an optimal daytime alert level.

As a parent, what can you do to help your teen get more sleep? The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:

  • Make sleep a priority. Help your teen come up with solutions to getting more sleep. Keep a “sleep diary” to help track sleep patterns and record what works and what doesn’t.
  • Encourage your teen to take short naps, but avoid napping for too long or close to bedtime.
  • Do not let your teen use stimulants such as power drinks, soda and coffee. Educate your teen on the negative effects that nicotine and alcohol have on sleep.
  • Don’t allow teens to drive when sleep deprived – drowsy driving causes over 100,000 car crashes each year.
  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule and help your teenager stick to it, even on the weekends.
  • Help your teen create a routine that encourages and signals their body that it’s time for bed. Examples include taking a bath or shower, or reading a book.
  • Avoid all-nighters. Encourage your teenager to plan ahead so they are not up all night studying for a big test or working on a school assignment.

PBS provides additional information about adolescent sleep and how it affects memory and learning. Be sure to encourage your teen to develop a healthy sleep pattern so they can carry the habit into their adult life.

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