Are the teenagers in your family sleeping until noon?
That might not always be a bad thing.
“I do think allowing kids to sleep in on the weekends isn't always bad, because sometimes they do need to catch up,” said Dr. Kate Beresford, sleep medicine specialist at Essentia Health. “Allow some flexibility with summer sleep, too.”
Teens, by and large, aren’t getting enough sleep, according to the Office of Adolescent Health, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In a recent bulletin, the agency cited recent studies saying that nearly 60 percent of middle school students and more than 70 percent of high school students fall short of the recommended amount of Z’s.
Beresford, a sleep specialist at Essentia for six years, confirmed that conclusion.
“An average teenager should get … about nine and a half hours of sleep, but they're getting more like seven, a little over seven hours,” she said.
That’s especially true during the school year, Beresford said, when nighttime activities collide with early classes.
“Over-scheduling can be an issue, and academic demands,” she said. “So doing the homework late at night, and then getting up early in the morning for either academics or (extracurricular) training.”
Just going to bed earlier, if such a thing were possible, might not solve the problem. That’s because nature is working against an early-to-bed-early-to-rise sleep pattern when it comes to adolescents.
“For teenagers, we see this shift in their circadian rhythm, and so they often are desiring a more delayed sleep pattern where their melatonin levels are rising later,” Beresford explained. “So if left to their own choice, they would probably stay up later and sleep in longer. But that doesn't really work with our school schedules.”
Some school systems are adjusting, moving start times later for middle schools and high schools, she said. For many teens, the summer schedule might be an opportunity for their parents to help them to adapt a more circadian rhythm-friendly schedule.
“I see a lot of kids that the parents come in and say, ‘Well, I can't get them up in the morning,’” Beresford related. “It's often … hard to get going at 6 in the morning, but if you let them sleep in to their more desired time, they can do a lot better.”
For people of all ages, the consequences of inadequate sleep can be serious, she said. Those can include mood issues such as depression and anxiety; decreased learning, memory and attention; and some studies indicate chronic sleep deprivation over time can increase the risk for heart disease and obesity.
What else can parents do to help their teenage children get the sleep they need? Some suggestions:
Limit electronics at night. Any light suppresses melatonin that allows us to sleep, Beresford said, but the blue light in electronic devices is particularly harmful. Her professional advice is to get cell phones, TVs and other such blue-light emitters out of the bedroom. If you lose that battle, dimming devices, putting them on their night settings or wearing blue-blocking glasses can at least help.
Give energy drinks a curfew. For all of us, caffeine doesn’t mix well with sleep, Beresford said, and the substance’s effect lasts longer than most of us realize — up to 10 hours. “If you're going to use caffeine, it's good to have an early cut-off for it — noon or one o'clock,” she said.
Help your teens strive for a consistent sleep pattern, Beresford suggested. Bedtime and wakeup time should generally be the same — but with the caveat at the start of this article. Sometimes, she said, it’s OK to let the kids sleep in and catch up.
If other issues develop, such as sleep apnea, it’s time to take your son or daughter to a specialist, Beresford said.
The sleep specialists at Essentia Health in Duluth see patients from age 13 and up, Beresford said. Among teens, the most common issues are insomnia and sleep apnea. That’s followed by parasomnia — abnormal behavior while sleeping, such as sleepwalking.