Is your teenager getting enough sleep? Studies show sleep improves grades and mood.

A teenager asleep with his head on a deskBefore adolescence, children naturally tend to fall asleep around 8:00 or 9:00 pm.  As children grow into adolescence and with the onset of puberty, teenagers’ internal clock shifts to delay sleep time to 11:00 pm.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), this phenomenon is called “delayed sleep phase syndrome”.  The AAP says this “shift” happens for two reasons: 1) hormonal changes during puberty and 2) teens tend to stay up later to socialize, complete homework or participate in extracurricular activities.

The pressure to do well in school is intense for today’s teens, and it is harder to get by without studying hard. In addition, teens have other demands — from sports and other extracurricular activities to fitting in a part-time job.  No wonder so very few teenagers are getting the sleep they need. A study published by the Journal of School reported 90% of students sleep less than the recommended 9 hours at night and 10% sleep less than 6 hours.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is as important to your teen’s well-being, as eating the right foods is to maintaining a healthy body.  Getting enough sleep can help teens eat better, manage stress and achieve more in school.  On the other hand, sleep deprivation may cause multiple problems for your teenager:

  • Physical and mental well-being:  Lack of sleep can lead to medical problems such as acne, narcolepsy, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.  In addition, sleep deprived teens may also be suffering from depression or anxiety.  If your teen exhibits any of these behaviors, discuss your concerns with your teen’s doctor.
  • Decline in school performance:  Sleep deprived teens score lower on tests and find it hard to concentrate, learn and stay awake in class.  Several studies from the AAP show students whose report cards showed mainly As and Bs were the same youngsters who usually went to bed earlier on both school nights and weekends. These high achievers averaged about 35 more minutes of sleep nightly than those who got mostly Ds and Fs.
  • Drowsy Driving:  Several studies also report teenagers who do not receive enough sleep have higher rate of auto crashes.

How do you  know if your teen is getting enough sleep?

Here are some of the signs that your teenager may need more sleep:

  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Falling asleep during classes
  • Feelings of moodiness and even depression

What can you do?

The following lifestyle changes can help your teen get the sleep they need:

  • Schedule it!  Encourage your teen to set a sleep and wake time every day (yes, even on the weekends).  Ask them to prioritize extracurricular activities and limit late-night socializing and working hours.  Provide them with tools to help set and maintain their sleep schedule such as a clock radio with a loud alarm.
  • Cut the Caffeine.  Eliminate coffee, soft drinks and energy drinks with caffeine after 3 pm.  These caffeinated beverages, may provide a quick jolt of energy during the day, but may also interfere with sleep at night.
  • Relax your mind:  Discourage stimulating activities like vigorous exercise, gaming, listening to loud music 1-2 hours before bedtime.  Instead, encourage your teen to read, listen to quiet music, take a warm bath or shower to relax.
  • Unplug:  Remove the TV from your teenager’s room or keep it off at night.  Have your child recharge their cell phone, mp3 and electronic gadgets in another room to avoid the temptation to socialize at night.
  • No napping:  Although your teen may want to take a nap after school, long naps (over 30 minutes) hinder their ability to fall asleep at night.

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