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Improving Teens' Sleep Habits

Discover realistic tips to help increase the quality and quantity of tween and teen sleeping schedules – at a time when rest is crucial!

Sixteen-year-old Canton High School junior Shea Rhodes doesn't usually go to bed until 2:30 a.m. on weeknights. So naturally, getting up for school can be a little rough. "Shea is very difficult to wake up in the morning. It takes several attempts every morning to get him out of bed. He takes naps when he gets home, then can't sleep. It is a vicious circle," says his mother, Beth Rhodes. The problem is Shea just isn't getting enough sleep.

This isn't news to many parents of teenagers. Most teens in the United States today aren't getting enough sleep. According to a study by the Journal of Adolescent Heath, 69 percent of high school students are getting less than seven hours of sleep each night, as opposed to only 8 percent of teens who are getting the ideal amount of nine hours or more. Lack of a good night's sleep leads to all sorts of problems, ranging from general crabbiness and poor grades, to more critical situations like depression and drowsy driving.

Why's it so tough?

Often, parents of teens become frustrated with their child, blaming them for staying up too late at night, but it may not be their fault.

"Children entering puberty experience a biological change, a shift in body rhythm," says Dr. Lawrence MacDonald, medical director for The Center for Respiratory and Sleep Disorders in Novi. This shift causes teens to stay up later and thus they need to arise later. "Parents think their child is just being lazy, but it's the way their brains are set. It's like they have permanent jet lag," Dr. MacDonald says.

Although there's a biological cause, a typical teenager's lifestyle plays a contributing factor as well. Staying up late on Facebook, playing videogames and watching T.V., all negatively affect a teenager's inner body clock. So what are conscientious parents to do in order to help their teen get a good night's sleep?

Ways to improve

"Encourage your child to take a look at his or her schedule. Sports, extracurricular and social activities," says Dr. MacDonald. "Have them figure out what time they need to get up in the morning, and then work backwards from there." MacDonald's other tips include:

  • Set a communication curfew. Half an hour before bedtime, have your teen hand over all electronic devices and turn off the T.V.
  • Establish a bedtime routine. When your kids were younger, the rituals of brushing teeth and bedtime stories helped their mind know it was time for sleep. Encourage your teen to wind down each night by reading or listening to mellow music.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch. It stays in the system for hours, making it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Avoid bright lights in the evening; darkness lets your body know it's time for sleep.

If your teen uses these techniques and is still unable to fall asleep by a reasonable hour, then it's time to consult a sleep specialist. According to Dr. MacDonald, "Up to 10 percent of teens experience something called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. Some kids can't go to bed before 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., even if they want to." But Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is very treatable.

"We see a lot of it," Dr. MacDonald says. "Within a few weeks to a month we can reset their body clock."

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