By DR. KAREN LATIMER
I drove a carful of high school freshman yesterday morning. They looked like they had partied all night. They were exhausted and complained incessantly about the early hour. Partly, the hard mornings are an adjustment to an earlier first period after a long summer with no schedules, but a bigger issue is simply their age.
When I tried to calmly tell them sleep is incredibly important for both academic, social and athletic success, and that they need to get to bed earlier each night, in almost unison they replied, "But, we can't!" They claim they cannot fall asleep at night until it is late. Is this true or are they too busy Snapchatting and checking out Taylor Swift's Instagram to fall asleep?
About 85% of teens are not getting enough sleep, and the science says they have a legitimate problem. There is an evolutionary shift in the sleep cycle of adolescents designed to keep them up later. Theoretically, we can trace this back to the time when early human kids transitioned into more responsible roles for the community. So, for most kids in high school, they are hard wired to go to sleep later, and yet, they have to get up earlier for school.
On top of this, newer research shows there is incredible amount of brain reorganization occurring between the ages of 12 and 16. This tells us teens need more sleep to support important brain development, and yet, they are getting less.
Combine the scientific need for more sleep with the changes in social behavior, increased homework, and 24 hour access to the internet and social media, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Lack of sleep in teens results in:
- Inability to concentrate
- Emotional swings and anger management issues
- Impatience and frustration
- Increased risk of depression
- Increased risk of drowsy driving accidents
- Impaired judgment
- Weight gain
- Acne and skin problems
There is hope. Though it may not always seem like it, even teens can understand reason, and sleep schedules can be adjusted.
Explain the side effects of lack of sleep to your kids. Show them the evidence. Depending on the child, you may want to focus on weight gain and acne.
Discuss time management techniques, and what can be done to allow for an earlier bedtime.
Remove screens from the room. Yes, this will be painful and you may have to pry phones from their deathlike grip, but tough love is still love. Some parents have resorted to turning off the wifi.
Set the tone in the home. Try to eat dinner a little earlier, and start calming things down at about 8pm. Lower lights, turn off distractions and encourage a more peaceful environment.
Set bedtimes and encourage school involvement. Studies show kids with structure fare better from both health and academic standpoints.
Finally, try to be patient with your teenagers. The adolescent years are really hard for kids and parents alike. They require a great deal of understanding, flexibility and chardonnay -- hopefully just on the part of the parents. Repeat after me, "This too shall pass."
More from Dr. Karen
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What adults learned in school that kids won't
Silent danger of road trips
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