Do you get enough sleep to feel great and pay attention in school? If you’re like most teens, chances are you don’t. In sleep studies, researchers found that more than 15 million kids and teens get poor sleep. The teens who got poor sleep were more likely to have family fights and bad headaches.
The problem with poor sleep is how you feel when you are awake -- usually cranky, sad, and moody. There’s more: Teens who get poor sleep have problems getting along at home and at school. They have poor grades. And sleep-deprived teens tend to be apathetic. They are also more at risk for car wrecks, making the problem of teens and sleep even more serious.
Your mom or dad may yell, “Get in bed and go to sleep!” But that’s easier said than done. If you are like most teens, you like to stay up late. But why? You can blame it in part on TV, homework, instant messaging, and fun drinks filled with caffeine.
But there’s more to it than that. Researchers believe that teens are “pre-programmed” to fall asleep late and get up late, unlike adults and younger kids who can fall asleep early and get up early. Some think teens need more hormones for growth, and growth hormones are made during sleep. These experts now ask why schools start so early, if teens need to sleep longer to stay well.
Teens and Sleep Disorders
Most teens are tired because they just aren’t getting enough sleep. But feeling sleepy all the time may be a sign of something more serious: a sleep disorder. With a sleep disorder, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, problems with excessive sleepiness, or parasomnias. This last group of sleep problems includes sleep terrors and sleepwalking. Many teen-related sleep disorders fall into one of two groups: a delayed sleep phase or an irregular sleep-wake schedule. Let’s take a closer look at these two problems.
Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome
In his book Bipolar II, psychopharmacologist Ronald Fieve, MD, says delayed sleep phase syndrome is a common problem. It is linked to an inability to fall asleep and daytime sleepiness. “This is caused by a short circuit between one’s biological clock and the 24-hour day.”
While delayed sleep phase syndrome is found in those with depression, many teens are at risk, too, if they can’t fall asleep at night and have trouble waking up at 6 a.m. for school.
An Irregular Sleep-Wake Schedule
Fieve says that an irregular sleep-wake schedule happens due to a lack of lifestyle scheduling. The good news is that this means you can fix this sleep disorder.
An irregular sleep-wake disorder means you are awake most of the night, perhaps playing your Wii or Nintendo DS Lite. Then you need to sleep much of the next day to feel good. Teens who stay up until the wee hours of morning on weekends have problems getting their bodies to fall asleep early on Sunday night so they can be fresh for school on Monday. Many teens claim to nod off in their first class, as they cannot wake up.
While a study at Brown University found that teens need just as much sleep as they did when they were preteens (about 9 to 10 hours), teens get on average just over seven hours of sleep a night. In the past, researchers rarely linked more sleep with high grades. However, in this study, they said that teens who got A's on their report cards got an hour more sleep at night and went to bed an hour earlier than peers who got D's and F's.
8 Ezzz Sleep Tips for Teens
So how can you change your sleep habits? Try these sleep tips:
1. Make your bedroom a quiet place. Turn your computer off before you get in bed. If your home is loud at night, wear earplugs.
2. Take a hot bath or shower before bed to boost deep sleep. Then keep your room cool (about 68 F) to cool your body. One study showed that sleep happens when the body cools. Wakefulness occurs when the body temperature warms up.
3. If light bothers you, put blackout shades in your windows. Make sure your door is shut when you go to bed. Turn your clock with the face toward the wall, so you don’t check the time all night long. You can also buy a lightweight and comfortable sleep mask at most stores that will cover your eyes and prevent light entry. When you get up on school days, open your shades, and turn on your light. The early light of day helps to “reset” your brain to push your bedtime to an earlier hour.
4. If you are stressed, relax with soft music or yoga right before bedtime. If you can’t relax, ask your doctor for help.
5. Go to bed early when you’re ill. Even an hour earlier each night can help give your body the sleep it needs to get well. Be sure to plan for this added sleep time if you have to get up early for school.
6. In the book Smart Cookies Don’t Get Stale, dietitians Catherine Christie, PhD, and Susan Mitchell, PhD, say to eat high-carb snacks before bed. This makes you feel warm and sleepy. Try pretzels, cereal, graham crackers, fresh fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, vanilla wafers, saltines, popcorn, or toast with jam or jelly.
7. Use good night “scents.” Christie and Mitchell say aromatherapy can boost sleep. Try orange blossom, marjoram, chamomile, and lavender scents. (If you’re using a candle or incense, be sure to put it out before you crawl into bed.)
8. Figure out what other things you use might make sleep difficult. If you are taking medications, ask your doctor if these might cause poor sleep. If you like caffeinated drinks, cut these out for a few days to see that helps. Many people find that chamomile and valerian herbal teas help them feel sleepy. These days you can find either or a combination of both at most drug stores and supermarkets. Try one to two strong cups at bedtime.