Is Lack of Sleep Killing our Teens?  lack of sleep can be an embarrassing problem

I know what you are thinking right now, “So what, I never got enough sleep when I was a kid and look at me, I’m just fine.  I can handle it and so can they.”  Well, let’s explore the question of whether lack of sleep is killing our teens.

It is Wednesday morning, my sons are driving me nuts, yawning, grumpy, moping about the house when I am finally able to drive them from their beds.  On the weekends I never see them.  They sleep I swear the whole weekend and get out of their bed only to eat or go to a party.  They groan about being overworked and missing out on the kid years.  Like it is my fault?

They drink those power drinks and even drink coffee, those special lattes.  They search for ways to kick start their over tired bodies and I really can’t blame them.  They go to school, they work, they do sports and then they have to have a social life right?

Of course then they come home and go into their nice and quiet rooms to take a good sleep.  Yeah right!  They play their on the computers; watch television, talk on the cell phone, use their IPods the PSP the this game and the that game.  When I kindly offered to take those things out of their room to help them out so they could sleep easier, well they looked at me like I grew horns!

Our teenagers are our responsibility, yes indeed they are. However there are just some things we can not seem to do anything about.  For instance, they have something totally unique to their age; it is called the teenage circadian rhythm or their biological clock.  When they stride into adolescence their clock resets and when they used to be in bed by 9pm, suddenly they can’t fall asleep till 11pm or even later.

Now you can see that teenagers going to bed at midnight and getting up by 6:30 are only getting 6 and a half hours sleep a night.  Research shows that teens need 81/2 to 9 or more hours of sleep each night.  Remember it is not because they don’t want to sleep; it is because their brains are working on a later schedule.  The natural hormone Melatonin is not released until later in the night in teens and thus it is hard for them to sleep.

So besides being a bit tired, like we all have been in our lives what is the real problem with being sleepy? You may be surprised to hear that lack of sleep causes many side effects.

  • Affects cognitive state
  • Makes it hard to focus and pay attention
  • Memory worsens
  • Decision making abilities decrease
  • Increases moodiness
  • Increases Crankiness
  • Gives broader mood swings
  • Lowers their ability to handle life’s frustrations
  • Teens are more impulsive and apt to take risks
  • Difficult to learn and concentrate

All of these side effects are pretty scary by themselves, but add into the mix what the teenagers are doing daily. For instance they are playing sports, they are driving cars, and they are making decisions about something that may or may not harm them.  Do we really want our precious teenagers to being making lives decisions under those conditions?  No of course not, so what can we do?

First thing is to try and reset their biological clock and start good sleep hygiene

  • Use the bed for sleep only rather than eating or studying
  • Get them onto a schedule and make them stick to it.  They go to bed at the same time every night and they get up at the same time every day, yes even on weekends.
  • Work on their schedules.  Prioritize their activities and let them choose the importance of doing one thing over another.  Cut their social time out if needed.
  • Adjust the lighting.  Uses a dimmer to make the room darker as sleep approaches and use a bright light to wake them up with in the morning.  If you live somewhere where the sun shines all the time, get darkening treatments for your windows and visa versa if you live where it is dark, use light more effectively
  • No long naps.  Do not let your teen sleep for long periods as a nap, 30 minutes will be a good refreshing one, if they sleep longer than that, they may have a hard time falling asleep at night.  Also do not let them take naps in the evening.
  • Avoid caffeine in the hours before sleep
  • Keep away from a large meal before sleep
  • Do something relaxing and enjoyable in the thirty minutes prior to sleep including reading or meditation
  • Exercise in the evening may be helpful, but try not to have vigorous exercise very close to bedtime
  • Establish a bedtime routine.  This may well be the hardest thing to do.  You want to encourage them to slowly wind down from the day.  That could mean different things to different teens.  Warm baths, shower and reading are soothing things to encourage sleep. Teach them to avoid loud music and television and to not get calls after 10pm.  No playing games or computers a half hour before bedtime.
  • Let them establish their “normal sleeping time”.  Its difficult but you should let your teen fall asleep on his own naturally for a few nights, but still keep the same wake up time, then slowly move his sleep time back 15 minutes every night till it is reset.
  • The final thing you can do is to get them checked out by a doctor for there are far more serious things that these symptoms can be pointing to.  Most likely it is a sleep problem, but if it is not I am sure like me you would want to know.

The following can be a culprit for sleepy teenagers

  • Medication side effects – Lots of different medications can cause sleep to be affected.  Cold meds, allergy med even migraine meds to depression meds can cause restless or no sleep.  If there is a problem, then consult your doctor.
  • Depression – Sleeping too much or too little is a common sign of depression.
  • Sleep apnea -   Has different causes, one being the muscles in your throat at rest fall and occlude the airway.  If your child snores or grunts in his sleep you should get it checked out.
  • Restless legs syndrome – This condition causes a “creepy” sensation in the legs and an irresistible urge to move the legs, usually shortly after going to bed. The discomfort and movement can interrupt sleep.
  • Narcolepsy – Sudden daytime sleep, usually for only short periods of time, can be a sign of narcolepsy. Narcoleptic episodes occur most often after meals, but can occur at any time — even in the middle of a conversation.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – which causes stomach acid to move backward up into the esophagus, producing the uncomfortable, burning sensation known as heartburn. GERD symptoms can be worse when someone is lying down.
  • Nightmares – Are caused by stress, anxiety, medication, drugs, alcohol and even lack of sleep.  Whatever causes them they are disruptive to the sleep pattern

The most important thing we can do for our teens is to communicate. This means to talk and to listen and watch.  We are their advocates and awareness of things is what allows us to fight the right fights. To me that they learn to sleep and stay healthy is on the top of the list.

Filed under: Teen Issues

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