Teenagers and sleep deprivation

Teenagers and sleep deprivation

Teenagers don’t get enough sleep, and the consequences can be harmful, says Nyack Hospital sleep medicine specialist Dr. Anita Bhola.

Parents can help their teens understand the importance of good sleep habits, and how to carve out time from their busy schedules to get adequate rest, she says, noting that more information is available on the infographic at www.nyackhospital.org/teensleep.

“Teenagers are notorious ‘night owls,’ says Dr. Bhola, the mother of two teens. “No matter what time they need to get up in the morning, they stay up late doing homework, texting their friends or playing video games.”

Although sleep needs vary among individuals, in general teens ages 11 to 17 need about 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep a night in order to be alert, productive and healthy, she says.

Teens are more sleep-deprived than any other age group. Not getting enough sleep can affect a teenager’s ability to pay attention in school or consolidate the information they’ve learned into memory. Even staying up an extra hour a night can affect their performance on a test or their ability to function in school.

Teens who don’t get enough can become cranky. Sleep deprivation can also have more serious effects on behavior and mental health. “I see a lot of teens in my practice who have been referred to me because of impulsive behavior, anxiety and depression,” Dr. Bhola says. “A lot of those issues have to do with lack of sleep.”

One major factor in teens’ lack of adequate sleep is early start times at school. Sleep specialists around the country have been working with school districts to try to implement later opening times. Research has shown starting school a half-hour or hour later can improve school performance and decrease depression.

The use of electronics close to bedtime plays a large part in teens’ lack of sleep. The bright light from TVs, phones and laptops suppresses the production of the hormone melatonin in the body. Levels of melatonin start rising at night and induce sleep. Bright light sends a signal to the brain to suppress melatonin, and this causes problems with sleep.

“Over-scheduling also plays a role. Teens have so much homework and extracurricular activities,” Dr. Bhola says. She adds another reason teens stay up late is their biological clock, which changes around puberty. Their body won’t let them get to sleep early, and makes them want to sleep later. But since they have to get up early during the week, they end up compensating by sleeping until 11 or noon on the weekends.

Dr. Bhola suggests parents sit down with their teens and have a conversation about why it’s important to get enough sleep, and come up with a strategy the whole family can live with.

Get homework done by a certain time. Don’t eat a large meal within three to four hours of bedtime, and stay away from caffeine from late afternoon on. Incorporate daily physical activity, but not close to bedtime. Be consistent with weekday and weekend sleep/wake schedules. Shut off all electronics a half-hour before bedtime. Keep bedrooms dark, quiet and cool during sleep hours.

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