These packed days often lead to teens making sacrifices, as it’s not possible to cram everything into a single day.
One of the most common sacrifices comes as the day is coming to a close: too many teens simply aren’t getting enough sleep.
While it’s true that all of us could probably benefit from a little more nightly rest, sleep is crucially important during the teenage years, a time of rapid changes in both the mind and the body.
Judith Owens, MD, MPH, recently visited South Shore Health to discuss the importance of teen sleep. Dr. Owens is the Director of Sleep Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and a Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School.
During her presentation, Dr. Owens explained that during the teenage years, the brain undergoes important changes that affect the body’s natural sleep pattern.
“Around the time of puberty, the circadian clock in our brains shifts later by one to two hours,” Dr. Owens said. “The average teen can’t fall asleep much before 11 o’clock at night, but they still need eight and a half to 10 hours sleep. Unfortunately for many teens, they’ve already been in school for an hour by the time their brains are ready to wake up.”
Dr. Owens stressed the importance of healthy school start times, recommending that middle schools and high schools begin the day at 8:30 AM or later. However, some schools have been slower to adopt later start times, forcing parents and teens to adjust on their own.
Here are four recommendations from Dr. Owens on how parents can help their teens get enough sleep:
- Help teens organize their day. Many teens simply try to cram too much into a single day, pushing bed time later and later. Teach time management skills to help your teen learn how to prioritize activities and tasks, ensuring that no activities get left until later at night.
- Encourage healthy sleep practices. Activities like watching TV or playing video games are a great way for teens to unwind, but try to limit them before bed. These electronic screens emit blue light, which suppresses the body’s natural release of melatonin, preventing restful sleep.
- Limit “catch up” sleep. It can be hard to rouse a teen out of bed on a Saturday morning, but catching up on sleep on weekends can actually throw the body’s sleep rhythm even more out of balance. A little sleeping in is fine, but try to limit it when possible.
- Take a quick break. The body experiences a natural dip in circadian rhythm between 3 PM and 5 PM. During that time, encourage your teens to take a quick nap — no more than 30 minutes. This will be long enough to help your teens recharge, but short enough to avoid interfering with their sleep that night.
Not getting enough sleep can have a major impact on the mental and physical well-being of your teen. Healthy sleep habits will go a long way toward ensuring that your teen is well rested and ready to take on everything the teen years have to offer.