How to Get Teenagers to Sleep Despite Their Inner Clock
Teenagers see staying up late at night as a right. Even though teenagers push to stay up later and later, they do still need more sleep than adults. Many adults function best with 7 hours of sleep, but school-aged children need 9 or 10 hours. Teenagers will give themselves this much sleep if they are allowed to wake up on their own. Weekends attest to this. But, it is necessary for them to go to bed early enough to get 9 or 10 hours of sleep before getting up for school.
Kids start a new cycle in approximately the sixth grade. It seems that their inner clock is telling them to stay up later. But, they end up sleepy and sluggish in the morning if this is allowed because they still need the same amount of sleep. If the situation goes unchanged, the effects worsen.
Getting enough sleep is necessary to stay healthy. Lack of sleep can cause physical and emotional problems, and learning difficulties. Impaired memory, concentration and ability to learn – these seem to describe the typical teenager, who is probably not getting enough sleep. Anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems – even more “symptoms” of being a teenager that relate back to sleep deprivation. Poor decision-making, poor judgment, increased risk taking – all three describe many, if not most, teenagers. It is possible that most teenagers are not getting to bed early enough.
Parents can help kids adjust their inner clock, known as circadian rhythm, so that they can get the sleep they require. A schedule helps greatly. The younger a schedule is started, the easier it is to keep a regular sleep schedule as they age. And, if younger kids are sent to bed as early as they really need to, the forward push of the cycle is probably not as late into the night as kids that routinely stayed up too late.
One big step is to help kids start winding down in the evening instead of allowing more physical activity or television shows that are too stimulating. Shows that are too stimulating or are aired too late can be recorded for viewing at a better time.
Kids are getting less sleep as the popularity of coffee, soda, and/or “energy” drinks increases. All of these drinks should be limited in general and be stopped before dinnertime. And, dinnertime should be at least 3 hours before bedtime to prevent obesity.
Kids who are active during the day will be more likely to be tired at bedtime. Sunlight is not only healthy, it helps to normalize the sleep schedule. On dreary days or when a child cannot get out in the sun, the house should be brightly lit. Bright lights should then be dimmed in the evening. Bright lights include the computer screen and television. TV viewing should be done from a distance, and computer use should be scheduled for late in the afternoon or very early in the evening. Mornings should include bright lights to start the day cycle.
Kids also need the right conditions to be met in order to be able to sleep properly. They should not use the bed as a place to do homework; or to lie on while listening to their favorite music, read, make phone calls, or watch television. This reserves the bed as a place for sleeping. It is even better if most of these activities take place outside the bedroom. The bed should be neat and inviting for sleep instead of piled high with notebooks and clothes. The child’s bedroom should be dark and quiet when they do go to bed, although soft music can be soothing. And, the rest of the household should not be loud enough to be a distraction.
When kids are not sleepy at bedtime, lying in bed in the dark will at least allow their bodies and minds to begin to recharge for the next day. Lots of kids who complain, “I’m not tired,” fall asleep quickly once they are in bed.
Once a good sleep schedule has become regular, it is safe to allow kids to stay up 1 or 2 hours later on Friday and Saturday nights. For a special occasion, like a sleepover or a concert, a good compromise would be for kids to take a nap before dinner.