The sleep patterns of teens often cause parents to worry that something is wrong. Some wonder when their teen complains that he always feels tired. While it is true that fatigue (feeling very tired) is associated with various medical problems, including mononucleosis and anemia (low number of red blood cells), it is much more common for teens to be tired simply because they have poor sleep habits.
Most teens are busy all the time, particularly during the school year. They are going to school, doing after-school activities, working, playing sports, doing homework and just hanging out with their friends. To make time to do all these things, teens often stay up very late. They do not get the sleep they need since they have to get up early the next morning for more of the same. Although they feel they can make up for it by sleeping late on weekends, in fact, they cannot. Most teens end up being sleep deprived (missing important amounts of sleep) and always feeling tired.
Your teen may not be getting enough sleep at night if he is:
- Falling asleep in class
- Having difficulty waking up in the morning
- Not able to concentrate
How much sleep should your teen get? Studies have found that teens need an average of nine to nine-and-a-half hours of sleep each night. However, many teens stay up late even though they have to get up early to be at school on time and often only get six or seven hours per night. To get enough sleep, a teen that needs to get up before 6 a.m. would have to go to bed by 9 p.m. Obviously, most adolescents do not go to bed this early.
So what can you do as a concerned parent? Have your teen follow these simple steps to make sure he is getting the most (and best quality) sleep possible each night.
- Go to bed and wake up the same time every day, during the school week and on weekends. Keeping a regular sleep schedule helps the body set its internal clock, making it easier for your teen to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.
- Do not nap during the day. If a nap is needed after school, it should not last longer than 30 minutes.
- Relax as much as possible for an hour or so before bedtime, perhaps by listening to music, reading or meditating. Try not to study right up until bedtime.
- Exercise regularly, but never right before bedtime.
- Do not drink beverages or eat foods that contain caffeine (for example, coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate) after lunchtime.
- Do not pull "all-nighters" (staying up all night) to study for a test. One night of missed sleep can upset your teen's sleep cycle for weeks.
- Avoid watching violent TV shows or movies before bedtime.
In addition to the steps listed above, sit down and talk with your teen about any concerns he may have. Some teens feel stressed about everything that is going on in their lives. They may not be sleeping well because they are just too busy or they are having a hard time balancing school, extracurricular activities, jobs and friends all at the same time. Certain social or emotional stresses, such as the breakup of a relationship or the death of a loved one, can disrupt a teen's normal sleep pattern.
Talk with your teen about what is going on in his life. Often times, if you can help him deal with some of the stress, his sleep will improve. On the other hand, sleep problems also can be a sign of depression. If your teen is having difficulty sleeping and is showing other signs of depression, such as weight loss, lack of appetite, irritability, moodiness, withdrawing from family and friends, or poor grades in school, call your teen's pediatrician right away for advice.
Sleep is important for everyone, particularly teens, who are growing physically and mentally into adults. Make sure your teen knows that getting the right amount of sleep, as often as possible, will keep the energy levels in our bodies up. This keeps us sharp, helps our brains to store all of the information we learned during the day, and helps our bodies to fight off infection, so we are less likely to get sick. In addition, all teens need to know that not getting enough sleep can actually be harmful to our minds and bodies, making us less able to concentrate, to make good judgments and to get good grades. Not getting enough sleep makes all of us feel irritable, cranky and more emotional. Most important, being sleep deprived ends up causing many car accidents, as we cannot drive nearly as well and the risk of falling asleep at the wheel increases.