Adolescence is filled with a plethora of social and academic path-altering decisions, which is why it is essential for our teens to have unplugged downtime and sufficient sleep.
After working as a high school social worker in a New York public school for over a decade, I noticed that when the first period bell rang at 7:15 am, that very few of the students were bright eyed and bushy tailed, in fact many of them seemed tired all day long. These days, when I am teaching mindfulness in schools, I ask for the for a show of hands to see who went to bed before 11 pm the night before, and I have never seen more than 8 out of 25 students raise their hands.
According to a number of studies the average adolescent falls asleep between 10:30 p.m. and 12 a.m. So, why is it that our teenagers insist on staying up late when they know that they need to get up early? One reason is because according to Nationwide Children's when a child goes through puberty, there is a shift in their biology which creates a natural tendency to want to go bed two hours later, so a early teen who would normally go to bed at 9 p.m., will now have difficulty falling asleep before 11 pm. And, since they need on average 9-9 ¼ hours sleep, a teen going to bed at 11 p.m. would have to sleep a little after 8 a.m. to feel fully rested.
Yet, most of the middle and high schools throughout the nation are starting school too early. Anne Wheaton at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at the start times of an estimated 39,700 public schools in America in 2011-2012. The average start time for middle and high school was 8:03 a.m which is a bit too early. According to the school-start guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics 8:30 am is the ideal start time. Student Science reported there are currently only two states, Alaska and North Dakota to have a majority of schools meet the standards, which is a concern for the rest of our nation if we want our children to succeed and be healthy.
When a baby is tired, they are cranky and the same is true for our teens. Studies have also shown that starting school too early can cause teens to lose REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep which is essential for mood regulation. Two hours of sleep deprivation may even cause your teen to have difficulty with controlling impulsive and high risk behavior. And, according to Nationwide Children's for those student who are up late studying, lack of sleep has shown to decrease memory and attention, leading to academic challenges.
Working with parents of at risk teens, I understand that one of their biggest safety concerns is teen driving. A study conducted by the CDC in April 2016, linked insufficient sleep for adolescents with an increase in risky behaviors - such as texting or drinking while driving and not wearing a seatbelt. Teens who are sleep deprived are also most likely to feel drowsy in the afternoon right after school gets out around 3-4 pm, when they may be driving home from sports or after-school activities.
What Can I Do as a Parent?:
1. Impose a Digital Detox: As a parent you can remove electronic devices at night, making it a wifi free home after 8 or 9 pm. Keep your teens phone charged in your bedroom in the evening. You can also turn the lights down at night, keeping the house dark and open the windows to let the light in before your teens alarm clock goes off in the morning.
2. Encourage Weekday Napping: Since most teens are sleep deprived, especially during the week, they can catch up on sleep by taking a 20-30 minute nap before mid afternoon to restore a sense of alertness. According to Nap Now even a 20 minute power nap can give teens up to three hours of increased alertness, improve test scores and increase energy and concentration into the evening.
3. Honor Sleep Debt Hours: Often times, children are sleep deprived all week long. By allowing your child to catch up on sleep during the weekends you will likely have a more balanced and happy teen. Try to get them to bed by midnight and up by 9 or 9:30 and allow for a hour nap on Saturdays and Sundays. Just make sure the nap is before midday otherwise they may have a hard time falling asleep later that night.
4. Be a Sleep Role Model: According to the 2013 Gallup Poll, only fifty-nine percent of Americans get seven or more hours of sleep at night, while 40% get less than seven hours. We are all a little different, but on average, adults typically need 7-8 hours a night to feel rested and alert. Allow yourself to be a sleep role model, leave a couple things undone and go to bed earlier.
5. Teach your Teen Mindful Breathing Techniques: Mindful breathing is great for teens to practice before bedtime to help them feel calm, centered and relaxed.
Sleep is a basic human need and with the right amount your teen can get through the next few years a little more happy, balance and relaxed, which is good news for the entire family.