My teen isn't getting enough sleep, what can I do?

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My teen is staying up until midnight, and I know she's not getting enough sleep. As a parent, what can I do?

Asked on: 11/25/2016
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Answered on: 06/26/2017

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Answered on: 04/19/2017

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How much sleep children need:

The latest recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine :
• Babies 4 months to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours
• Children 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours
• Children 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours
• Children 6 to 12 years old: nine to 12 hours
• Teenagers 13 to 18 years old: eight to 10 hours
And how many get that much sleep? Very few!

Why that’s serious:

With studies showing that 60 to 70% of American teens live with a borderline to severe sleep debt, we need to know how going without their recommended (optimal) nine hours a night affects them . Sleep deprivation puts teenagers into a kind of perpetual cloud or haze, explains Dr. Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University and director of chronobiology and sleep research at Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island. “One of the metaphors I use is that it’s like having an astigmatism. You don’t realize how bad your vision is until you get glasses or in this case, good sleep.” That haze, she says, can negatively affect teenager’s mood, ability to think, to react, to regulate their emotions, to learn and to get along with adults. Other effects of sleep deprivation include increased risk of unintentional injuries, substance use and risky behavior and poor mood, such as depression and hopelessness.

Why are they not getting enough sleep?

Most parents will agree that kids stay up way too late because they have left something until the last minute, whether it’s a completing a homework assignment, doing laundry, filling out an application, deciding on their Halloween costume, or a hundred other tasks. Teens are notoriously bad judges of how long something will take. And, teens procrastinate. Why?

The ability to plan projects and estimate how much time a project will take to complete, start an activity or even remember to add a task to their “to do” list -- all of these are “executive functions” of the brain , centered in the frontal lobe. That begs the question, “At what age is the brain fully developed?”. According to a Mental Health Daily article published in Feb.2015, “A consensus of neuroscientists agree that brain development likely persists until at least the mid-20s – possibly until the 30s” . So, really, we cannot expect that our teens will be very good at time management.

So, what are their parents to do?

Teens aren’t likely to change their sleep habits unless they recognize that more sleep will make them feel better and improve their performance in school. Parents have to be willing to put in the effort and show that it’s important.

First, see if there might be a physical reason for the missed sleep, such as reflux, insomnia, restless legs syndrome (RLS), etc. Treatment for sleep problems can vary and you might want to consult a doctor.
Next, if the issue is not physical, you can encourage teens who have sleep problems to make lifestyle changes, like turning off the cellphone or computer one hour before bed to eliminate “blue light” says Dr. Max van Gilder, a pediatrician in practice for over 40 years. Also try cutting down on caffeine, cutting out snacks after dinner, avoiding violent video games or movies at night — all of which can promote better sleeping habits. Encourage your teen to set a bedtime and get to bed every night, consistently, as close to that time as possible, even on weekends.

You might also try boosting the biological clock . One of the most significant physiological changes to occur in adolescence is a shift in the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Effectively, teens are living in a different time zone than the rest of us. But “that is the normal circadian rhythm for 15-22 year-olds,” says Dr. Van Gilder. He frequently recommends that teens who have trouble sleeping try taking a low dose (2-3 mg) of melatonin (a non-prescription vitamin which can be purchased at the drugstore) one to two hours before it’s time to go to bed to help jumpstart melatonin production.

Also wise: set a good example for your kids by having a consistent bedtime, helping them to streamline mornings by getting things set up the night before (choose clothes, etc.), and save the bed for nighttime: do homework, chores and eating in a different room, while the bedroom is reserved for sleeping.

Sources:
http://fox2now.com/2016/06/14/heres-how-long-children-should-sleep-every... (link is external)
• The Child Mind Institute: http://childmind.org/article/happens-teenagers-dont-get-enough-sleep/

Answered on: 12/07/2016