Teens Don't Sleep
how you can help
By Sharon Edry
So has the challenge of rousing your kids. One of the starkest shifts
between the lazy days of summer and the post-Labor Day rush is when
your children - after having slept many post-camp mornings away -
start having to make the first bell.
Many parents become frustrated as they watch their kids - especially
teens, who may no longer have a set bedtime - watch television or
surf the internet late into the evening, rather than settling down
and catching some shut-eye. A recent study, though, has found that
kids aren't necessarily being defiant by staying up till the wee hours.
Instead, they may simply be responding to biology - a factor called
a "sleep phase delay."
The National Sleep Foundation believes that the body's natural, internal
clock is geared toward later sleep and waking times in teenagers than
in adults and younger children. This may make it hard for your teen
to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and even tougher for him or her to crawl
out of bed in the morning.
Believe it or not, the ideal amount of sleep for an adolescent is
9.2 hours per night, says one of the study's authors, Prof. Amy Wolfson
at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. "You don't
have to be a mathematical genius to figure out that it's going to
be difficult for teens going to sleep at midnight to get up to start
school at 7 or 8 a.m.," she says. "Their bodies are calling
out for more sleep."
In addition to changing body rhythms, teens face other challenges
in trying to catch enough nightly winks. Greater academic demands,
after-school activities and employment opportunities often arise as
kids mature, says Jason Mateika, assistant professor of applied physiology
at Teachers College at Columbia University.
And a nation of sleep-deprived teens results in more than just yawning
and stretching. A number of studies show that a lack of sleep can
lead to poor performance in the classroom. Teens may also show signs
of irritability, hyperactivity, depression or aggressive behavior.
Having a "pillow talk" with your teen about good sleep "hygiene"
can help your family deal with the sleep struggle. The National Sleep
Foundation offers the following solutions:
1. Chill out before bed.
Lay off reading, studying and computer games for an hour before hitting
2. Beware of weekends.
You might think "catching up" on the weekends really works,
but studies show teens are very susceptible to changing schedules.
So try not to head to bed more than an hour later on the weekend or
wake up more than three hours later.
3. Bright lights, less
Try to avoid bright lights before bed, since they can help restart
your internal clock. And get into the sun as soon as possible after
waking up - it's better than a cup of coffee.
4. Just say no to Joe.
Speaking of coffee, caffeine can make sleep hard to come by. And remember
that tea, chocolate, and sodas also have the stimulant.
5. Head to bed at a set
It might be a long shot, but at least aiming for the same sleep time
every night - as early as your teen can fall asleep without difficulty
-- is an important part of having healthy sleep habits.
You might assume your child will shrug off the notion of sleep deprivation
-- after all, late-night studying and pulling all-nighters are part
of student lore. But having a serious conversation with your teen
about these issues is essential, says Professor Wolfson. "Let
your child know that if she doesn't get enough sleep, she's not going
to function well not only in school but in sports and other activities
as well. Sleep has to become a priority, even if child has to cut
back on something else to make that happen."
Goldman Edry is a New York City-based freelance writer who has written
for such publications as Parenting, Child and American Baby
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