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Help your teen get a good night’s sleep

How parents can help teens get the rest they need.

It's 10 a.m. Do you know what your teen is up to?

If it's a school morning, chances are it's not what you expect. Rather than absorbing what's being taught in algebra or English, your son or daughter may be dozing off.

"Only shift workers may be more sleep-deprived than teenagers," says Lisa Shives, MD, speaking for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

Missing sleep

To function well during the day, teens typically need 8 to 10 hours of sleep at night—a basic requirement that few meet, the AASM reports. Many make do with seven, six or fewer hours, especially during the school year.

A key reason for this behavior is teens' natural sleep cycle. Often around age 11 or 12, adolescents start to transform into night owls; their inclination is to stay up late at night and then sleep in. "By the time they reach high school, most kids have a hard time falling asleep before 11 p.m.," Dr. Shives says.

But teens' inner clocks conflict with most high school schedules. Because of early start times, kids all too often stagger out of bed at 6 a.m. and then go about their days in a fog.

The toll

Chronic sleep deprivation has consequences for teens, Dr. Shives says. Among them:

  • A lack of sleep can sabotage learning, making it difficult to concentrate or remember information. Grades may slip.
  • Sleep deficits slow reaction times, which can hurt athletic performance.
  • Tired teens are often irritable and moody. Teens robbed of sleep also appear to feel more anxious and sad than well-rested ones.
  • Adolescents who consistently skimp on sleep may be prone to obesity, possibly because sleep-deprived kids (and adults too) tend to snack indiscriminately.
  • Drowsy teen drivers may endanger themselves and others.

A better way

All this is why parents need to watch out for signs that their teens may not be getting enough shut-eye. Red flags include binge sleeping on weekends, oversleeping in the morning, dropping grades, emotional outbursts, and dozing off when riding in the car or during a quiet activity, such as watching TV.

To help a sleep-deprived teen get adequate rest, try these tips from Dr. Shives and other experts:

Work together. Talk with your teen about the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Then, together with your teen, try to establish a reasonable bedtime.

Encourage consistency. Caution your teen against staying up too late on Friday or Saturday and then compensating by sleeping very late the following morning. Doing so makes it hard to return to a school-friendly schedule on Monday.

Let bright light in. Opening curtains in the morning will expose your teen to sunlight, which is a natural wake-up cue.

Decrease nighttime distractions. Keep the TV and computer out of your teen's bedroom. And, though this won't earn you any popularity points, set a communications curfew—a time after which your teen can't use the phone or text messaging.

Scrutinize your child's schedule. Too many after-school activities can crowd out sleep.

Go easy on weeknight chores. Let your teen focus on homework on school nights and help out at home on weekends.

Remember, a well-rested teen is generally an easier teen to live with—and that alone is reason enough to help your child get the sleep he or she needs.

reviewed 7/15/2019

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