Everyone has an internal clock that monitors when they feel sleepy or alert. Though it can be affected by sunlight, blue light from electronic devices, stress, stage of life and other issues, we all have it. But for teenagers, that clock can be a bit funky. They can experience something called circadian delay, which shifts their clock later, meaning at 10 p.m. when you, a parent, are heading to bed … your teenager is still wide awake.
Most teenagers need an average of 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, but most of them don’t get that amount of daily sleep. Their body tells them that they are not ready to go to sleep until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. As a result, when school starts at 7 or 8 a.m., sleep deficits occur and can evolve into irritability, mood difficulties, and even increased anxiety and depression.
Plus, teens are often not alert until mid-to-late morning, says Dr. Sarah Honaker, director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine with Riley Children’s Hospital, meaning “That they are not learning as well overall, particularly in the early morning classes.”
Though recent trends show that across the U.S., some schools are starting later, most states are not beginning, on average, any later than 8 am. “Delaying school start times is arguably the single best way to improve adolescent sleep,” Honaker says.
Because bad sleep hygiene influences anxiety, mood, depression and obesity, practicing good sleep hygiene is critical. If their teens are not sleeping well, parents may need to intervene with sleep safeguards to help teens improve their ongoing sleep habits. “There is no substitute for sleep,” Honaker says.
To encourage good sleep habits, parents can try the following:
E-ncourage a consistent wake time on weekends. Teens tend to think that sleeping in on the weekends will recover lost sleep. Not so. Morning light influences the circadian phase, says Honaker, so losing that light contributes to circadian delay. Though parents can allow some additional weekend sleep, teens should be awake within a couple of hours of their daily wake time to avoid these delays.
-Parents should encourage teens to avoid naps during the day. “When kids nap, sleep quality is not as good as during nighttime sleep,” Honaker says.
-Electronic screens are well known for disrupting sleep. Parents should implement a prescribed time to stop all electronics, ideally, an hour before bed. To keep screens out of the bedroom, a family charging station is always a good idea.
-As for melatonin supplements to aid in sleep, parents should check in with their teen’s physician so they can advise effective use of the supplement if necessary.
Finally, teenagers can also suffer from delayed sleep, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders like insomnia. If teens are seeking regular naps, have increased irritability, loss of focus or other indications, parents should seek the advice of a sleep specialist.