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8/10/12blog post

adjusting your teens sleep cycle for school

As summer draws to a close and school time nears, it is time to reset those teenagers sleep cycle so that they can better conform to the hours of the school day.

I am daily seeing teenagers in my practice (it is sports physical time) who are staying up until 2 or 3 am or even later and not waking up until after noon. This is a fine schedule if it works for your family during those summer months. But I do have to wonder what those kids are up to, unsupervised, in the wee hours of the night. The question often arises, how do I reset the sleep cycles for these teens?

  1. Have the child wake 1-2 hours earlier then they typically have been waking every couple of days until they are waking at the same time as they would get up for the school day. For example if they are sleeping until noon but you need them to wake by 6 am then wake them at 10 am for a couple of days, then 8 am for a couple of days, and then 6 am.
  2. Do NOT allow afternoon naps. They must stay awake until 8 or 9 pm.

Over the course of a week this should reset their sleep cycles. Remember research has shown that teens need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Other sleep tips:

  1. No TV in the bedroom. Consider reading a book or writing in a journal during those last moments before bed. As a society we could probably use less screen time and more book time anyway. These activities are less stimulating to the brain and lead to better sleep.
  2. Establish a bedtime routine that lasts 30-60 minutes before bed. Your body likes routine. Attend to bathroom duties, brushing teeth, washing face. Then lie down in a quiet, dark, cool room to enhance your sleep. White noise is acceptable. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends.
  3. Turn OFF all cell phones and computers at an established time nightly. I tell my patients’ that my children will hand me their turned off phones every night at bedtime and I will return them in the morning. When I was young I did not dare call someone’s house after 9:30 pm for fear of waking their parents and getting into trouble. The same rules should apply for today. There is simply nothing important that is going to happen between the hours or 9 pm and 8 am that would need to be addressed overnight. If there is an emergency then that person can call you the parent or a house phone. Having access to the phone all night encourages the child/teen to use it, responding to a text message or a facebook post. This time should be reserved for rest and the parent to try to limit any temptations that would interrupt this rest. Also, people tend to say and do things in the middle of the night that they would not typically do by the light of day. Why set your child up to say or do things that they otherwise might not say or do?
  4. Avoid exercise and caffeine late in the evening. Sleep is so critical to your child’s overall wellbeing and establishing good habits ideally occurs at a young age and then is reinforced for those teens. According to sleep deprivation can build up over time and lead to “decreased attentiveness, decreased short term memory, inconsistent performance, and delayed response time. These can cause bad tempers, problems in school, stimulant use, and driving accidents.”

So, good luck at the start of the new school year! Start off on the right foot with good sleep habits!