By BARBARA ESTEVES-MOORE
My husband has told me his mother didn’t like him to sleep late when he was a teenager. On weekend mornings when he would sleep in and drag himself out of bed in the late morning, his mother would fuss. He would tell her his best friend sleeps much later — well into the afternoon.
“Well, he’s a lazy bum,” she would reply.
In fact, his best friend was just getting the sleep teens biologically need, but rarely get. Fast forward 30 years and the problem has compounded. Our teens are overscheduled, physically challenged in year-round sports, given ridiculous amounts of school work and asked to volunteer, get jobs, and on and on. This keeps them up late and up early. And it’s not good for them, according to Dr. Chris Dodd with Tennessee Pediatrics in Spring Hill.
“Teens need nine to 10 hours, and even upwards of 11 to 12 hours of sleep a night and none of them get that,” Dr. Dodd said. “That’s why they come home on Friday afternoons and fall asleep and don’t wake up until noon on Saturday. They are chronically sleep deprived.”
Teens are these crazy beings biologically. Their bodies are still growing, there are going through the hormonal changes of puberty and they are changing sometimes daily. Dr. Dodd said some teens can grow three to four inches per year and need 5000-6000 calories a day for their bodies to just keep up with the growth. This is all exhausting. I need a nap just thinking about it. And, so do they.
Their bodies, he said, need sleep to handle all that is happening to them biologically – forgetting for a moment about what is happening outside their bodies. That’s why they can sleep for such long periods of time.
So, the mood swings are starting to make a lot more sense now. Dodd said if you think about what is happening with teens, it’s easy to understand why there is so much drama and laziness.
“They need to rest so their bodies have time to grow. They need the mental rest, too, so they can process all that is going in those teen brains,” he said.
If teens get the rest they need they can function better in school with improved memory and testing abilities, perform better athletically and handle those situations when their friends come to them and unload with all their problems, Dr. Dodd said. As a society, we know this. We have changed the practices among medical residents to require shorter shifts so that they do not become overly tired and make mistakes. Pilots and truck drivers have strict rules when it comes to the times they are required to step away from their jobs and rest. Yet our teens routinely get five to six hours of sleep at night and we wonder why they act the way they do.
I confess, this happens with my teen. Bedtime gets later and later every year. My teen routinely goes to bed after 11 p.m. (many nights after midnight) and wakes up before 6 a.m. every weekday morning. I try to get her to go to sleep earlier but there always seems to be a test to study for or a crisis among her friends that she must attend to late into the night.
Dr. Dodd said it takes work to get our teens to sleep as much as they need.
“You have to choose to not be so busy,” he said, acknowledging how difficult that can be. “We have to recognize the importance of sleep and don’t let it take a back seat to everything else.”
“We want all of our children to be Rhodes Scholars, number-one draft picks, to volunteer at the local hospital and work to pay for their cars, and, be nice while they are doing all that,” he said. But that’s not realistic.
Helping teens get more sleep won’t make them all those things, but it might make them more pleasant to be around. I have a friend that says he always just wanted his kids to be average, happy kids. So how do we get there? Dr. Dodd had a few tips for helping teens get more sleep:
- Keep them away from caffeine except for first thing in the morning. Dr. Dodd said caffeine can stimulate the body for up to 12 hours. Even when your teen tells you they can drink a soda and fall asleep, Dr. Dodd said the caffeine can affect the quality of that sleep.
- Make sure they eat a well-balanced diet. Eating late at night and eating junk food can cause things like acid reflux and stomach aches that can keep them awake.
- Turn off the phones and screens an hour or two before bed. Dr. Dodd said the backlights on phones and computer screens trick the brain into thinking it is daytime. That makes it harder for the brain to relax and fall asleep. He recommends turning off all screens an hour and a half before bedtime.
- Don’t sleep with the TV on. Dr. Dodd said people will say they like the TV on because it helps them to fall asleep, but he said TV greatly reduces the quality of sleep.
I will add a few things that we have found helps my teen to fall asleep or relax when she is stressed:
- Use a noise maker to fall asleep and drown out noises during the night that may wake you up.
- Listen to a meditation before going to bed.
- Use relaxing essential oils and warm neck wraps to create a sleep-conducive environment.
- Take a warm, soaking bath before going to bed.
Barbara Esteves-Moore is a journalist, editor and the owner of Two Roads Communications and an editor for Home Page Media. She has been married for 20 years and is the mother of an active, opinionated and very lively 16-year-old.You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.