Why Teenagers Should Wake Up Later
Parents’ strictly enforced bedtime rules often go awry when their children enter their teen years - and despite what you may think, those lie-ins are not just a product of laziness. In fact, science has shown that teenagers function on a biologically different time zone than most adults. This, unfortunately, means that their internal clocks are not in sync with early school start times, making teenagers the most sleep-deprived population on earth. Read on to find out the science behind teenagers’ sleep and how you can help yours sleep better.
The biology of teens
Along with the hormonal changes that transform your child into a teenager, the onset of puberty also brings about changes to their sleep. This is because teens have a delay in the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, meaning they will not feel sleepy until later in the day, usually around 11 pm. By comparison, in most adults melatonin is produced around 10 pm.
Considering how this delay in sleep onset is not met with an equivalent delay in school or university starting times, teenagers are essentially being asked to wake up before they have fulfilled their biological sleep need, and at an earlier time than what their internal body clock requires. This puts them at constant risk of losing 2-3 hours of valuable sleep as well as confusing their internal master clock. Things can be made even worse as a result of teenagers’ hectic life schedules, homework, and an obsession with technology.
Good, plentiful sleep is vital for the physical, emotional and intellectual development that occurs during adolescence. Fortunately, even though there are no foreseen changes in education timetables, there are a number of things that parents can do to increase the chances of their teenagers getting enough sleep - and we’ve compiled a list of them below.
How to help your teen sleep better
Create a healthy sleep dialogue
Getting teenagers to sleep can be a challenge. If not handled carefully, it can turn into an ongoing nightly battle, followed by another battle in the morning when it’s time to wake up. Instead of fighting over bedtime rules, aim to create a healthy dialogue around the benefits of sleep. A great way to promote positive behaviour change is to remind your children of how nice it feels to be well-rested, but also to create links between sleep and things they care about. For example, if your teenager is into sports, casually referencing an article you read about how sleep enhances sprint times, muscle strength and recovery might just do the trick. Choosing to focus your conversation on the positives of sleep instead of the negatives of sleep deprivation could be a refreshing change for both of you!
Create a calming environment
Teenagers are more likely to start winding down for sleep if they have a calm space in which to do so. Ideally, you would want them to create such a space themselves in order to maximise the chances of them using it. Allow them to select comfortable furnishings in relaxing colours that they like and help them by installing blackout curtains, maintaining a room temperature of 16-18 degrees, and making sure that there are no loud noises in the house close to bedtime.
Set a media curfew
When it comes to bedtime, excessive screen time is one of the biggest challenges for most teenager/parent relationships. Make your teen’s bedroom tech-free by agreeing to a digital cut-off time when their devices (mobile phones, tablets or laptops) are taken away. Make your life easier by downloading a Screen Time Manager, which will automatically disable devices at an agreed time. Your teenager may resist, but it will be easier for you to enforce such a rule if you follow it yourself. Children tend to imitate their parents’ behaviour, and any deal you make will only seem fairer if it applies to everyone in the house. Furthermore, it will do wonders for your own sleep, too!
Aside from technology, there are other things that should be avoided in the last hours before bedtime. This includes no caffeine after 4 pm (watch out for ‘hidden’ caffeine such as in soda and chocolate), nicotine (a stimulant), as well as alcohol, a known sleep disruptor. Bear in mind that bright light can also delay sleep timing, as it misinforms the brain that it’s morning and therefore time to be awake. Dimming all household lights will help your teenager’s brain recognise that it’s time to go to sleep. It’s important to remember that establishing good sleep habits early on, such as having a good wind-down routine, will benefit your children throughout their entire lives.
Opportunity to bond
As children grow, their lives begin to get busy with school, after school activities, homework, as well as increasing social demands. This can leave little time for parent/child interaction and bonding. Bedtime can, therefore, be a good opportunity for parents to spend some quality time with their children. It can also give older children an opportunity to talk about issues that might be bothering them, freeing up their mind for sounder sleep. This can be especially helpful if they're suffering from anxiety or depression, which according to one study in the UK, affects between 9% and 24% of 14 years old boys and girls, respectively.
Most teenagers usually need 8 to 10 hours of sleep, but hardly ever get as much during the week. Therefore, most teens try to make up for their sleep deprivation by catching up on sleep over the weekend. However, having an inconsistent sleep schedule with wildly different sleep timings on weekends will severely disrupt a teen’s body clock, making it even more difficult for them to sleep and wake up at reasonable hours during the week. This will lead to further sleep deprivation, causing them to be utterly exhausted by the time the weekend comes, and resulting in the need for more late lie-ins which will further upset their internal clock...
To avoid this vicious cycle, aim for your teenager to keep a sleeping schedule that remains more or less constant throughout the week, including on the weekends, where you should aim to wake up your teen no longer than 1 hour past their normal waking time. If they feel the need to catch up on sleep during the day, they can do so with a quick nap after coming home from school. Make sure, however, that it’s kept at around 20 minutes, which is the optimal time period for a power nap. Any longer, and you’ll risk them waking up groggy and as well as cause further delays to their nighttime sleep.