Helping Teenagers get A Healthy Amount of Sleep

It’s getting close to the end of summer and for many teenagers will be returning to school soon.  For most students they will be returning to their school sites.  This means no more remote learning and students will need to be getting school on time in the mornings.  In order to do so they need to get a good nights sleep.  However, many parents have been reporting that with the remote schooling students were able to sleep in because school was starting later.  As a result, many teenagers have developed poor sleep habits such as staying up later at night and taking naps during the day.  Many parents are concerned how they are going to get their children and teenagers back to a health sleep pattern so they can function at school and get up on time for school.

I have had many parents asking me and emailing me regarding getting children and teenagers back on a healthy sleep pattern for school.  Many parents are looking at this as an opportunity to get their children and teenagers on a healthy sleep pattern because their teenagers were never on a healthy sleep pattern to begin with.  As a result I researched teenage sleep patterns and found some very good information from James Maas, PhD., who specializes in sleep patterns, and he wrote the book, Power Sleep for Success.  According to Dr. Maas many teenagers are sleep deprived because beginning at puberty up until the age of 25 around midnight teenagers brains begin producing human growth hormones and reduces the amount of melatonin the brain produces.  As a result, teenagers are not ready to sleep until 2am and their brains are ready to wake up at 11am.  Dr. Maas refers to this as Chronic Delayed Phase Syndrome and states that every teenager suffers from it.

Since the amount of natural melatonin being produced in teenagers brains is reduced, many parents try providing their teenagers with melatonin supplements.  The parents hope that by increasing the amount of melatonin in their teenagers brains with melatonin supplements that teenagers will be able to sleep easier.  However, this may not be the case.

Dr. Maas has this to say about melatonin supplements.  He states they are not the best way to get your sleep. First, 3 mg of melatonin is the maximum amount that an adult needs, and many over-the-counter formulations start at 5 mg. Some even go to as high as 10 or 12 mg. You are peeing away a lot of melatonin that your body doesn’t need and can’t process. It does work, but there are other options on the market that work just as well as melatonin or better: (1) lavender, either in tea or in a spray; and (2) valerian root. These two over-the-counter supplements actually have been clinically proven to have a sleep-inducing effect.

Dr. Maas has outlined several steps that teenagers can go through before trying to go to sleep.  He believes that if children and teenagers follow these steps on a regular basis that it will help a teenager fall asleep.  He also believes these steps will help teenagers get enough sleep so they are not sleep deprived and are ready for school the following day.  Here are the steps Dr. Maas recommends that children and teenagers follow before their bedtime:

  1. Take a warm bath or shower an hour before bed to relax and to signal to the brain that it’s time to begin to unwind.
  2. Avoid eating food late at night that is likely to disturb your sleep: heavy, greasy, spicy, or difficult-to-digest foods like pizza, garlic, or anything really fatty. Instead try fruit (bananas or grapes) or lean protein such as tuna.
  3. Get your homework done earlier in the afternoon or evening while you are still awake and alert. This will also reduce your stress if you don’t have so much homework to do in the evening close to bedtime.
  4. Watch how you are spending your waking hours. Teenagers don’t typically have great time management skills. They can get caught up on social media or on their phones, which are a huge distraction and eat up that part of the day when you should be in study mode. Catch up on your social things after your homework is over.

We know that the amount of sleep that a child or teenager gets is related to how well they do in school, but it is associated with many more aspects of a teenager’s life.  Dr. Maas noted that sleep is really the one thing that underlies all of good health.  Good health refers to both physical and mental health.  When you are getting enough sleep, stress goes down and immunity goes up. It’s linked to greater longevity and reduced risk of car accidents, cancers, and heart attacks. If teenagers could add just one more hour of sleep to their daily routine, they would find that they have a higher GPA, that their athletic skills are better, and that their social life and ability to manage stress and anxiety improve. Everything hinges on getting enough sleep. If I could tell teenagers one thing, it’s this: If you want to do well in school and on the athletic field, getting more sleep is the single best thing you can do.  I have seen this in many teenagers that I see for psychotherapy.  Additionally, most teenagers who are having difficulties with anxiety or suicidal thoughts are sleep deprived.

Therefore, parents it is important to make sleep an important issue with your children and and teenagers.  If you explain to your children and teenagers why it should be a priority, you increase the probability that your children and teenagers will understand why sleep is important and will work with you to help them increase their amount of sleep especially as they try to adjust their schedules and lives to a post pandemic world.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children, teenagers, trauma victims and first responders.  For more information about his work visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

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