Sleep For Teens

Part 5 – Teens (13 – 18 years)

by Julia Gaines MD, FAAP

Invasion of the Teenagers

It finally happened – you are now the proud parent of a bonafide teenager! In a few short years, they’ll be off to college so they should be pretty self-sufficient as far as sleep goes by this point, right? Yeah, keep dreaming! Night owl tendencies, morning zombie behavior, resistance to parental “interference” in all aspects of their lives can result in a sluggish, sleep deprived kid. Among other things, insufficient sleep can lead to:

  • poor grades
  • irritability, especially with family members
  • difficulty concentrating
  • poor athletic performance
  • distracted driving
  • apathetic behavior
  • daytime napping resulting in even poorer sleep patterns

If I had a nickel for every teenager that I’ve seen with concerns about fatigue that turned out not to be getting adequate sleep, I’d be on a beach in the Bahamas right now. So how much sleep does your teenager need? They really need about 9 – 9 ½ hours a night and many average way less than eight. And yet, most teens LOVE to sleep, as you well know from trying to wake them up in the morning. So what’s the problem?

  • Unfortunately, there is a change in the sleep phases in adolescents that results in them honestly not being ready for sleep until about 11pm.
  • Early start times for high school make it difficult to fit in 9 hours of sleep.
  • Heavy academic and athletic schedules can result in a teen staying up late to complete work.
  • ELECTRONICS! Now I saw plenty of teens with sleep problems before they all had cell phones, but it’s a lot harder to sleep when your BFF is texting you all night long.

If your teen has terrible sleep habits but seems well rested and pleasant and is getting all their work done, you probably want to pick your battles and work on the vegetable eating or something. However, if your kid is grumpy during the day, impossible to wake up in the morning, or falling behind at school, see the following suggestions:

  • Strongly encourage the earliest bedtime your kid thinks they can possibly fall asleep. Remember, they usually need about 9 hours of sleep. If they have to get up at 6:30 am for school, that means they need to be asleep by 9:30pm. While that may be a pipe dream, going to bed at midnight means they only get 6 ½ hours of sleep and that flat out just isn’t enough.
  • In order to increase the likelihood they can actually fall asleep earlier than midnight, remember the room should be Cool (generally pretty easy), Quiet (which means no TV on, no music on), and Dark (be aware of all the gizmos they may have in their room that emit light even when they’re off).
  • Remind them that sleeping in on the weekends does not help the situation. Sleep is not money, you can’t bank it. If they sleep until noon on Sunday, what are the odds they’re going to be tired at 9:30? They won’t even have been awake twelve hours at that point! So that means Monday will be a total loss and by the time they’ve adjusted to the earlier schedule, it’s Friday again.
  • Let me say it again, your teen should really not have a TV in their bedroom. I know a lot of kids do, but there are a million reasons why it’s a bad idea and sleep is only one of them. Keep in mind, all they need is a Netflix subscription to turn any computer, tablet, or phone into a TV (with access to 7 seasons of their favorite show).
  • And speaking of phones, I STRONGLY advise that the phone should not be kept by the bed. The average teen sends over 60 texts in a 24 hour period and not all of those are happening during the day. Check those phone bills – bet you’ll see texts when they should be sleeping. If they are using the phone as their alarm clock, it’s time for a shopping trip. At the very least, the phone should be plugged in somewhere else in the room and a different room (like yours) is even better.
  • You may want to consider giving your teen melatonin at night. Melatonin is a hormone that our brains make that helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycles. It is available as an over the counter supplement in many doses and formulations. While the research does not overwhelmingly show improvement in sleep initiation with melatonin, it does seem to help some people. I have found it especially helpful in my patients with ADHD. You can start them on 1mg about 30 minutes before bedtime and work up to 3mg if needed. It can sometimes cause morning grogginess or vivid dreams, in which case just discontinue it. I do not recommend any other sleep aid for teens, including Benadryl, as they just have too many side effects and can actually make sleep problems worse.

As your teen gets older, they should start to take responsibility for their sleep habits, along with other life skills. If they don’t get out of bed until you go in there and physically drag them out, it’s time for a conversation. In my opinion, by their junior year, a teenager should get themselves to bed a reasonable hour and get themselves up in the morning in time to eat, brush their teeth, and make the bus without a parent nagging them the whole time. Remember, in two years, that kid will be sleeping in a college dorm room at great expense. Help them to be successful! The day is soon coming when they will complain to you because their child won’t sleep and you can enjoy your sweet revenge…

If you have any questions on teen sleeping habits and recommended guidelines, contact Cobb Pediatrics in Marietta GA by calling (770) 425-5331, or request an appointment today.