Summertime can disrupt your adolescent’s sleep schedule. Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., the ‘Ask Your Mom’ columnist for Parents, discusses how you can help your teen establish a healthy sleep schedule, why this is important, and why it can be a problem during the summer months.
When summer approaches, my adolescent’s sleep schedule devolves into complete mayhem. Nonetheless, he is a growing boy, and I am aware that he needs rest. How can I establish sleep pattern parameters after my child has surpassed formal bedtime regulations? How much sleep does a fourteen-year-old actually require?
The change from school year to summer satisfies every adolescent’s inherent desire for independence. The liberty to munch throughout the day instead of eating a meal. The freedom to use their phones for hours at a time. The liberty to sleep through the day without an alarm to disturb their peaceful rest. I am envious as an adult with a career and parental obligations. The reality is, however, that regardless of age, we benefit from structure. This includes sleeping patterns.
Teen Sleep Neurons
The physiology of adolescent sleep differs from ours, so what we consider a healthy sleep pattern may not be appropriate for them. Melatonin, the chemical our brain releases as daylight fades to darkness to signal it’s time to feel sleepy, is released later in the evening and lasts longer the following morning in teens.
Lisa Lewis says in her book The Sleep-Deprived Adolescent that teenagers’ biological clocks cause them to grow sleepy later than adults and necessitate a lengthier morning sleep. There are several reasons why the average adolescent does not get enough sleep, including the mismatch between adolescent biology and the fact that their first class begins when their brains are effectively sleeping (which is why Lewis fought for and won later school start times in California!).
Yet, this does not imply that biology fully explains the sleep patterns of many adolescents. I have worked with numerous adolescents who socialize online until 3 a.m. or later and then sleep until well after lunch. I do not know your son’s precise sleep pattern, but this one is not optimal for achieving the essential functions of sleep.
Important Sleep Concerns: How Much and How Well?
To answer your query, a 14-year-old requires how much sleep? The agreement among experts is 8-10 hours. The science of sleep recognizes individual variability, so it can be difficult to tell just how many hours are best for each adolescent, although it is likely near to this average. Many adolescents would naturally sleep from 11 p.m. to between 7 and 9 a.m.
The quantity of sleep is less significant than the “quality” of sleep, such as the number of night awakenings and duration spent in each sleep wave. Adequate sleep provides benefits from head to toe, inside and out: a stronger immune system, so we get sick less often, a reduced risk for melancholy and anxiety, enhanced stress management skills, and enhanced school and work performance. What’s the reason? We are more able to pay attention and concentrate and process tension and lessons from the previous day. I could go on and on, especially given that most of our adolescents are suffering from insufficient sleep quantity or quality.
Sleep Habits Beyond the Summer
There is such a thing as too much sleep, even though the classic adolescent sleep problem is never getting enough. Even though the timing of melatonin production may affect the teenage brain’s sleep clock, chronobiology (the science of time) suggests that our brains and bodies function better the more we are awake during the day and asleep at night.
A fourteen-year-old may no longer engage in the adult-led evening routine, from reading to cuddling, but they still require structure. As summer has fewer time demands, sleep hours are typically unpredictable, which can cause the brain to become confused about whether it should be drowsy or awake. Consistent bedtimes and wake-up times are the foundation of healthy sleep habits, regardless of the season.
Given that the majority of adolescents with whom I’ve worked have almost little drive to alter their sleep patterns, I recognize that this may be an uphill struggle. But it is absolutely worth it since these same adolescents later remark how much better they feel after a solid night’s rest. I do not know your family’s present sleep habits, but I propose the following for all families:
- No phones are permitted in the bedroom. If it is not possible to change this policy, then at least require that phones are switched off or set to “do not disturb” and left in their room, so they would have to get up and walk over to retrieve it, rather than snatching it and aimlessly scrolling when they should be sleeping.
- Options for a healthy wind-down before bed. They should not involve a screen in a low-light environment. Popular options include music listening, painting, and reading. If adolescents are receptive, I recommend journaling and meditation. Sleep meditations are an excellent practice to begin at any age.
- Set and adhere to a wake-up time. The blinds are raised to allow sunshine in as quickly as possible to activate the brain’s wake signal. A morning stroll is one of the most effective strategies to help the body and mind feel alert and energized. These morning routines prepare the brain to sleep at a more regular hour at night.
Establish the expectation that your 14-year-old needs a healthier sleep pattern, and then work with him to determine the specifics. If feasible, locate his motivation within the laundry list of benefits of improved sleep (it does help with the growth hormone if he wants to grow taller!). Then, generate a sleep pattern that, if not optimal, would at least be an improvement. I highly recommend Lewis’ book for additional information on the advantages of sleep and particular advice for adolescent sleep patterns.
It is logical that adolescents would desire to sleep more during the summer after completing another long school year. But, this is an example of too much of a good thing, and abandoning a sleep schedule for a few months can make the start of the next school year significantly more difficult. Working with your adolescent to build healthier sleep patterns will help them well beyond their summer vacation, resulting in less turmoil everywhere.
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