Teens Need More Sleep
One pattern I hear over and over again is that adolescents just can’t fall asleep before 11 p.m. Teens need 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep, but that is tough to get if the bus comes at 6:30 a.m. The adolescent brain undergoes a natural shift in its circadian rhythms, and it feels like perpetual jet lag. Melatonin, the “sleepy hormone,” is secreted by the brain’s pineal gland in response to dwindling sunlight. Starting in puberty, it takes up to two hours longer for the brain to make melatonin, making winding down more difficult.
Set A ‘Media Curfew’The omnipresence of screens only makes things worse for the confused pineal gland. When our eyes look at LED displays, our brains don’t distinguish between YouTube and sunlight. Moving TVs and computers out of bedrooms, dimming the lights and setting a “media curfew” an hour or two before the ideal bedtime can provide some damage control to the disrupted sleep-wake cycle.
A Sanctuary for SleepThe trouble with late night media extends beyond the bright screens. If a teen watches an action movie in his bedroom or spends hours stressing over homework, the brain is conditioned to feel overstimulated there even when the lights are out. I encourage my tired patients to make their rooms as boring as possible so that it is easier to relax there at bedtime.
Sleep Deprivation Risks
Sleep-deprived kids are more prone to depression, irritability, impulsive behavior, poor concentration, and car accidents … not to mention obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. Is it any wonder the AAP declared teen sleep deprivation a public health issue? Changing a school’s start time is complicated, but those that have successfully carried it out report happier, more alert students, better attendance and fewer car accidents.One exhausted 15 year-old wryly summed it up for me: “The early bird gets the worm – but the second mouse gets the cheese.”
Does your teen struggle with tiredness? Leave a comment and share some of the things you’re doing to ensure he or she gets enough sleep?
Dr. Condron is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center whose clinical interests include obesity, nutrition, allergies, asthma, childhood development, literacy, infectious diseases and preventive medicine.