Similar to how nutritious meals are food for a healthy body, sleep is food for the brain. Teenage/adolescent stage is the most important phase of growth and development and during this stage individuals need more sleep than adults. While an average teen requires nine hours of sleep every night to feel fresh, most teens do not get the required duration of sleep according to research.
While time and again we keep blaming social media for lack of sleep in teenagers, it is a combination of various factors that disrupt sleep.
Busy schedule: Most teens feel sleepy around 11 p.m. and wake up around 6 or 7 a.m. to get ready to school which makes it impossible to get the required 9 hours of sleep. Students juggle education, extracurricular activities and late-night parties all through the week and skip on quality sleeping time as they find it difficult to fall asleep after such activities.
Overloaded curriculum: To excel in academics, most teens miss out on their sleeping hours dedicating the time to concentrate on studies. But, after a night of inadequate sleep the teenager finds it hard to concentrate on what is happening in class the next day.
Social media: Teens find it appropriate to answer any text message, call or post on any social media platform instantly. This keeps their mind impossible to wind down and relax as they are constantly involved in listening to the ‘beep’ sound and sending instant replies back.
The Much-needed Sleep
Two factors determine your sleep quotient. The sleep-wake balance which determines how long it has been since you last fell asleep and your internal body clock that controls the ‘circadian rhythms’ in your body. Circadian means to occur in a 24-hour cycle and these rhythms make you feel sleepy or alert at regular times every day. This internal clock indicates you when it is time to go to sleep and when it is time to wake up. Teens often don’t set this clock appropriately as they keep procrastinating their sleep late into the night. When this happens, the internal body clock is not defined and teens become sleepy when they should be wide awake.
Puberty Defines Sleeping Hours
During puberty the body physically and mentally undergoes a cascade of changes and even sleeping patterns see a shift then. There is a shift in the circadian rhythm timings in the body. While before puberty the teen might feel sleepy around 8.00 or 9.00 p.m., the rhythm shifts a couple of hours later and your body tells you to go to sleep only by 10.00 or 11.00 p.m. This natural shift in the circadian rhythms is called ‘sleep phase delay’ and the delay is about two hours on an average. Initially, the teen might suffer due to lack of sleep or inability to sleep. These changes are a part of growing up and with some extra care, teens can quickly adapt to the new sleep schedules of their bodies.
Ignoring or resisting these changes makes the life of the teenager dreadful. Late-night studies, chats or too much caffeine intake to stay up late can make it hard for the teen to get some quality sleep. This makes it hard for the teen to go to sleep and even more harder to get up from sleep.
Effects of Unstable Sleeping Hours
Just like adults, teens who don’t get enough sleep are at a risk of number of problems that include:
Developing sleep hygiene is the best way for a teen to get the required hours of sleep. Sleep hygiene is a basic set of rules/tips given at www.firsteatright.com. This can help the teen develop a healthy sleeping pattern.
Define bedtime rules: Set a bedtime routine for your teen and for yourself and ensure that both of you stick to the rule every day. Going to bed at the same time every day can help your kid go to sleep quickly once in bed.
Regulate their homework: Speak with your teens regarding their homework load. If they are overloaded with work, help them schedule and allocate time for every activity. Ensure that your teenager gets a serene place to sit down to study.
Restrict Social Media time: Discuss with your teen about texting and being active on social media. Set a time limit for texting or surfing the net and create rules that disallow smartphones/tabs inside bedrooms after a certain hour.
Encourage hobby activities: An hour or two before bedtime, ask your teenager to involve himself/herself in some relaxing activity. This might involve reading a book, taking a warm shower or listening to some soothing music. Encourage your kids to experiment on different ways to unwind to help them go to sleep.
Curb late-night activities: Make a note of the number of nights your kid stays at school late or parties with friends. Restrict the number of weeknights he/she stays out past dinner.
Other activities that help promote sleep in teens include regular exercise, healthy diet, short nap, dim lighting in bedroom at night and open curtain blinds in the morning to allow the sun to come gushing into your room to wake you up, restricting excess sleeping beyond two hours than usual during the weekends and avoiding smoking/drinking alcohol/caffeine.
Sometimes, the cause of a teen’s sleeping problem can be difficult to determine and it is suggested to speak to your family doctor if problems persist for more than a couple of weeks. The doctor/counselor can determine if it is stress that is causing the lack of sleep and start the teen on the necessary treatment procedure.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.