Look, most of us can use a little extra sleep, but with today’s fast-paced way of doing things sometimes it can be a real challenge.
And with work, family and household pulling you in multiple directions, not to mention trying to keep up a social life, a good night’s sleep can be as elusive as an NFL running back.
And many times when we think of the people who may be sleep-deprived, we think of ourselves, our co-workers and other adults, but what most of us don’t think about, at least not usually, are teenagers.
But Dr. Lisa Meltzer, a sleep psychologist at National Jewish Health center in Denver says that adolescents need more sleep than anyone else, since their melatonin—the hormone that regulates sleep—shifts by about two hours compared to others, and requires them to get more Z's than the rest of us.
“When adolescents go through puberty, their circadian rhythm (or internal clock) moves later by about two hours,” said Meltzer in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.
“This is due to a change in the timing of their melatonin, the hormone that controls our internal clock."
"In sum, this makes it harder for teens to fall asleep early and wake early. For example, if you have a child who was sleeping from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., when they go through puberty their internal clock may now want to sleep from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. For most people, the internal clock moves back in the early twenties.”
Meltzer and her research team examined the sleep habits of 2,612 students, and among those studied, 500 students were home-schooled. The findings showed that students who were home-schooled slept about 90 minutes more than kids who either went to public or private school and those same students were in class about 18 minutes before home-schooled kids even woke up.
Meltzer believes that schools should take another look at what time classes start, as students being sleep-deprived can lead to a host of problems like poor school performance, behavioral issues and unsafe driving.
The results of the study also showed that 44.5 % of students in private and public schools lacked the proper amount of sleep, which may cause some to ask if establishing stricter sleep times and going to bed earlier would help bring some of those percentages down?
“Yes and no,” Meltzer says.
“Having a consistent bedtime and wake time seven days a week helps to regulate the internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up. If this set schedule includes an earlier bedtime, then teens may be able to get more sleep. However, if teens stay up late and sleep in on weekends, this makes it difficult to fall asleep early on school nights.”
“Also, if teens try to go to bed too early, they may lie in bed for prolonged periods of time, putting them at risk for insomnia. It is also important to understand that there are a number of factors that contribute to later bedtimes and deficient sleep, including homework, jobs, extracurricular activities, social media and technology.”
In addition, Meltzer says there are clear signs parents should look for when it comes to determining if their teens are getting enough sleep and although it’s considered pretty normal for teenagers to sleep until noon on the weekends, it could be a clear indication that they’re not getting enough sleep during the week.
“Weekend oversleep (sleeping more than two hours later on weekends than week days), difficulties waking in the morning (children should be up moving within 15 minutes of being awakened by a parent or alarm clock), falling asleep in school or other inappropriate places and behavior or mood changes following a poor night of sleep,” are all signs parents should watch for, says Meltzer.
In addition, she says that sometimes sleep therapy is needed for serious cases of improper sleep and the main goal in therapy sessions is to change all of the specific behaviors that contribute to one not sleeping enough.
“Behavioral sleep medicine is a specialty field that uses evidence-based interventions to address difficulties with falling asleep and/or staying asleep, as well as issues with poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness,” Meltzer explains.
“Following a comprehensive evaluation, behavioral interventions focus on changing the habits, behaviors and other environmental factors that interfere with quality sleep. There is sometimes a need for cognitive interventions as well that address thoughts and beliefs that make it difficult to sleep. Interventions are usually brief, with most patients seeing improvements in 2-8 weeks.”
And sleep therapy should be sought when parents notice that a child’s daily functions are being affected, Meltzer says.
“Parents should seek treatment for their children when deficient or poor quality sleep interferes with daily functioning. This could include chronic tardiness, regular reports of falling asleep in school, a decline in grades or negative changes to mood or other aspects of functioning,” she says.
But isn’t there something parents and teens can do immediately to help with a sleeping problem?
Meltzer says yes, and one of the first things families should do is establish a consistent sleep time for everyone in the house, as this can directly shift one's behavior and help them develop better sleeping habits.
“Parents and teens need to go to bed and wake up at the same time seven days a week,” says Meltzer.
“If teens are going to stay up late and sleep in, this should be on Friday night/Saturday morning, but parents should make sure teens are awake early on Sunday morning in order to facilitate falling asleep Sunday night.”
“Everyone needs a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine, shutting technology off at least 30 minutes before bedtime [and] remove all technology from the bedroom by having a central charging station for smart phones, tablets, laptops and gaming devices,” Meltzer advises.