I used to feel like a broken record. Every evening, I would call down the hall toward the light that remained on in my daughter’s bedroom, “Are you heading to bed yet?” This was because my daughter was typically up past 11:30 pm, and she needed to rise slightly after the birds — around 6 am. Typically she was aggravated, cranky, and just plain miserable when the sun came up. You would think that an 18-year-old could adjust, knowing that each and every morning she would regret the alarm. At the time, though, her schedule was definitely a catalyst — advanced-placement courses, two honor society schedules, volunteer work, and an insane athletics schedule. With freshman year in college approaching, another chaotic schedule is likely, so getting into a regular sleep schedule should be at the top of her list.
What’s a parent to do when she realizes her teen is on a downward spiral due to lack of sleep?
Inadequate sleep cycles
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens should be getting approximately nine-and-a-quarter hours of sleep per night to function at their best.
Staff members at the Mayo Clinic write, “Puberty changes a teen’s internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy — often until 11 pm or later. Staying up late to study or socialize can disrupt a teen’s internal clock even more.”
Robert S. Rosenberg, medical director of The Sleep Disorders Centers of Prescott Valley and Flagstaff, Arizona and author of the newly released book “Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day,” (Demos Health, June 2014), reports “Recent surveys have shown that only 15 percent of teenagers get eight-and-a-half hours or more of sleep.”
Experts say that part-time jobs and extracurricular activities, in addition to school schedules, contribute to fewer hours of sleep. Teens also spend time on social networking sites before bed, which can affect their ability to fall asleep.
Dr. Nadav Traeger, director of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, clarifies that the amount of sleep teens needs vary.
A lack of sleep can lead to negative consequences, including drowsy driving, which can be extremely dangerous.
Traeger says that teens who get insufficient sleep may present with various issues.
“The possible symptoms include: increased tendency for sleeping during the day, decreased school performance, decreased attention, restlessness or hyperactivity, moodiness, memory problems, behavioral problems, and propensity for clumsiness or accidents.”
A lack of sleep can also affect a teen’s athletic performance. Rosenberg points to a recent study conducted at Stanford University which involved baseball, basketball and football teams.
“Athletes demonstrated improved performance when they were encouraged to sleep ten hours, or at least one more than they had been sleeping.”
Rosenberg advises parents to watch for the following behaviors:
• Sleeps late on weekends
• Falls asleep when not actively engaged in something
• Has trouble waking up for school
• Increased agitation and irritability
Better sleep habits
Sleep is important for tissue repair and strengthening muscles, explains Rosenberg, so parents should encourage teens to cut down on extracurricular activities that go well past dinner times.
“Let them know that during sleep a lot of important things are taking place, such as memory consolidation for, not only facts, but also for how to swing a bat or shoot a basketball.”
Traeger suggests that parents persuade teens to practice good sleep habits.
“The main habits that will promote good sleep quality are: using the bed for sleeping only, sleeping only in own bed (not the couch, etc.), having little variability in the sleep-wake schedule (including weekends), exercising regularly (as long as it is not too close to bedtime), and getting sufficient exposure to daylight during the day.”
Additional tips are provided by the National Sleep Foundation (www.sleepf
• Keep a sleep diary: Use to determine how much sleep you need to feel good during the day.
• Naps: Keep these short and not too close to bedtime.
• Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark.
• Avoid caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, soda and chocolate) late in the day. Nicotine and alcohol also interfere with sleep.
• Keep a consistent sleep schedule. This will help keep your body in sync with its natural patterns.
• Don’t eat, drink, or exercise within a few hours of your bedtime.
• Avoid TV, computer, and the telephone within an hour before bed.
Upcoming topic: Tips to encourage your teen to get involved in politics.
Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer, columnist and author of, “Lions And Tigers And Teens: Expert Advice and Support for the Conscientious Parent Just Like You” (Unlimited Publishing LLC, 2012). For details, visit www.myrnah