Teenage Dream- Get Them to Bed!

Harrison is 17 years old from New Jersey, and loves playing guitar, tennis, and learning about current events.  He wants to be a genetic counselor when he’s older and hopes to travel around the world.

Do the math… up at 6:15a.m., do what you gotta’ do, out of the door and on you’re way to school by 6:30a.m.  The first bell rings at 7:15a.m. and the average high-schooler’s daily routine has only just begun.

We teenagers really aren’t getting enough sleep, and because the schools aren’t doing too much about it, parents have to work harder to monitor their kids’ sleeping patterns and spend more time making sure they stay in top shape throughout the day.  The average high-schooler goes to sleep around 11:30 on a school night.  Because we wake up so early, we are thereby only given more or less six hours of sleep per school night.

According to the American Sleep Disorders Association, the average teenager needs around nine hours of sleep per night, mostly because hormones important to an adolescent’s growth are being released during slumber.  Unfortunately, although we high-schoolers appear to be awake in school, our brains are not actually fully functioning until about 8:30a.m., which puts us around the middle of our second period classes.

A special report released by CNN from the Mayo Clinic concurs with this amount of sleep required for teens.  Obviously it isn’t too feasible that we could be going to sleep at around 9:15p.m., considering all the homework and extra-curricular activities we’re involved in these days.  Although parents with busy kids cannot have them go to sleep so early, there are still many ways to greatly improve sleep habits and patterns.

The Mayo Clinic’s study adds that a teen’s increased need for sleep is unfortunately hampered by his or her ability to fall asleep at such an early hour.  One major reason for this is that electronic devices are impacting teenagers’ lives significantly.  Studies indicate that students with four or more electronic entertainment devices in their bedroom (iPod, laptop/computer, cell phone, portable gaming device, etc.) are twice as likely not to fall asleep at an appropriate and recommended hour (9 o’clock).  Getting enough sleep as an adolescent is extremely important to our daily lives and overall health.  Mary Carskadon, director of chronobiology at E.P. Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island, was interviewed by PBS.

One question asked was, “How much sleep are adolescents getting?”  She answered with the following:

“In our surveys and in our field studies, we’re seeing that, on average, teens are getting about seven-and-a-half hours a night’s sleep on school nights.  And actually a quarter of the kids are getting six-and-a-half hours or less sleep on school nights.  So when you put that in context of what they need to be optimally alert, which is nine-an-a-quarter hours of sleep, it’s clear that they’re building huge, huge sleep debts, night after night after night.”

Mary Carskadon continues to discuss that, “The problem is worst for teenagers in the morning.  Fundamentally, the issue is they’re not filling up their tank at night, and so they’re starting the day with an empty tank.  Interestingly, there is another part of their brain that’s the biological timing system, or circadian clock, that actually helps to prop them up at the end of the day.  But when they start the day with the empty tank and there’s no biological clock helping them in the morning, they really should be home in bed sleeping, not sleeping in the classroom.”

For the last few nights, I have gone to sleep earlier to test the difference in my daily ability during school hours.  After getting approximately nine hours of sleep for five days in a row, I felt significantly better in the morning, and was able to pay attention much better during all of my classes.  I was much less irritable, I felt extremely refreshed, and felt much better all around.  Just from my personal tests and own experiences, I know that going to sleep earlier every night strongly affects how you react to certain things the following day.

OK, so now we know sleep is important, really important- and your kids are just not getting enough of it.  Now what?

First if your teen is not getting enough rest at night, it affects his/her schoolwork and grades significantly.  If we try to study late at night as opposed to earlier in the day, we will not be able to retain most of the information, as the only place it could possibly go to is short-term memory.

Sleep depravation affects emotions as well.  If we wake up without enough rest, we normally feel depressed, distressed, and usually in an irritable mood.  Our relationships with out peers, teachers and especially parents can suffer.

Sleep depravation also can interfere with our coordination.  We can’t think quickly enough to make important decisions, our reaction time is bad, and our joints and muscles are affected.  So if your teen is driving to school, that’s definitely something you need to keep a closer eye on.  Sleep deprivation hampers our everyday motor skills and is a huge concern when teens are handling mechanical devices, especially cars.

According to many different studies and lots of research done over the last twenty years, there are five main actions your child can take toward making better habits:

  • Decide which after-school activities are feasible and work with your teen’s schedule.
  • Create a more relaxed evening atmosphere so your teen can easily fall asleep, even if it means collecting technological entertainment devices at night.
  • Be consistent and establish a regular bedtime and wakeup schedule for week-days.  Remember, we cannot catch up on sleep in just one night.  The process is much more gradual and long-term than you may think.
  • Learn how much sleep your teen personally needs to function at his/her best.
  • Use bright light in the morning to signal the brain when it should wakeup and when it should prepare to sleep, by turning off all lights and music.  Light has also been known to stimulate certain emotions in the morning as well which has seemed to help many people wake up in the morning.

When studying, doing homework, and thinking about our overall performance in school, it’s important to consider our sleeping habits.  We all enjoy staying up late on AIM, Facebook, talking on the phone, listening to music, and playing videogames, but the trade-off is huge.  So whenever possible, make sure you’re giving your teens a break and get them to sleep!

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