Sleep is food for the brain. Truly. When we sleep, important brain activity and body functions occur. We’ve all seen those advertisements on TV about the dangers of fatigued drivers. They’re not just producing these ads for the fun of it; fatigue is a killer and skipping sleep can be very harmful, psychologically and physiologically. Unfortunately, teenagers seem to be missing this point. Despite their growing needs (literally), teens are generally the worst culprits for avoiding a good night’s shut-eye. Not only does this make them even grumpier and more difficult to communicate with, it impacts their performance in school, on the sports field and in the workplace.
Admittedly, it is fact that our biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence but that doesn’t mean your child has just reason to chat on Facebook or stalk Instagram until midnight. Teens, more than anyone, need a minimum eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each and every night, no matter how much they protest otherwise. But what can you do?
Well, research indicates every extra half hour of sleep per night makes a big difference. Getting into a yelling-match with your hormonal teen about their lack of sleep is hardly going to help but it’s up to you to establish ground-rules. For one thing, light expose is one of the biggest causes of sleep deprivation in adolescents. Light cues the brain to stay awake. Lights from televisions, mobile phones and computers can prevent adequate production of melatonin — the brain chemical responsible for sleep. If you’re going to allow your teen to sit on their phone or computer until all hours, you may as well throw the baby out with the bathwater. No, it’s not easy to manage your teen’s ‘screen time’, especially as they grow older, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Try to work with your teen, brainstorming ways to increase their nightly quota of sleep. Perhaps start with an agreement that Sunday nights are always an ‘early night’, preparing them for the academic week ahead. Work together to adjust your teen’s body clock. Remember, every half hour counts. If you can get them to sleep at 10.30PM rather than 11PM, that’s a win.
Weekends can be your friend or foe, depending on your approach. You may not like it, but as your teen grows older, they will spend more time socialising on weekends and often this involves late nights. Where on one hand you want to teach them responsibility, like having to get up early and clean the house (as you do), there is no reward for cutting one’s nose off to spite their face. Allowing your teenager to sleep-in on a weekend is not a bad thing. Forcing them out of bed as a ‘learning principle’ is counterproductive, especially if you know they’re not sleeping sufficiently during the week. Likewise, preventing your teen from having an afternoon nap because ‘you certainly didn’t get to do that as a kid’ is just plain bullish. Everything in moderation.
Finally, you should give real consideration to the quality of your teen’s bed. Think about it, when was the last time you actually updated it? You know yourself what a difference a good mattress can make to a night’s sleep. It’s no different for them. And while a comfortable, ergonomic mattress isn’t going to provide a miracle cure, every step toward aiding sufficient teen sleep is a positive.