Making sleep a priority

Adequate sleep time is critical for adolescents

I dropped my daughter off to college in September for the start of her freshman year.

Before we left, the college facilitated a faculty panel for students and parents. Every one of the four professors on the panel highlighted the need for students to maintain a healthy sleep pattern. The professors said they could tell when a student was sleep deprived and found that this issue alone caused more emotional and academic struggles than anything else at college.

This advice could not be more important, especially when transitioning to a new environment and living on your own for the first time.

But sleep is not just important during this time. Sleep is one of the few things throughout life that is a constant. When we do not get enough sleep, we can get cranky, we perform less successfully and efficiently, and we can experience greater emotional struggles. Although sleep is critical for all stages of a child’s life, adolescents, in particular, require increased amounts of sleep, as their bodies and brains are growing at a rapid pace.

Establishing healthy sleep patterns, as well as recognizing how decreased sleep impacts your child is a crucial component to parenting.

When younger children are tired, they rarely recognize it. They may get more hyper or agitated when tired. For adolescents, we often see the impact of decreased sleep manifest in fluctuating moods, exaggerated emotional responses or a decrease in academic performance.

Lack of sleep for adolescents can also affect organizational and decision-making skills, often leading to an increase in risk-taking behaviors. Some youth have increased amounts of depression or anxiety when they get off track with sleep, which can impact their ability to perform academically or engage socially. Being tired can increase stress, which can impact the ability to fall or stay asleep. This cycle can become debilitating for adolescents and one that should be addressed with a doctor.

Adolescents are busy with school, extracurriculars and socializing with peers so that doesn’t leave a lot of extra time. Many adolescents don’t think about the consequences of pulling an “all-nighter” or skipping sleep to hang out with friends or do homework.

Lots of kids will make up lost hours by sleeping during the day or after school. This often results in not being able to fall asleep at night, prompting a cycle that is very hard to change.

Parents need to talk to their kids throughout childhood about sleep. Setting concrete bedtime routines and following those routines as consistently as possible help children to maintain schedules.

Keeping electronics out of their bedrooms is also important. This becomes more challenging as children grow into teenagers, but maintaining a policy around TVs, phones and computers in their bedrooms will help them develop those skills on their own. In addition, as children grow, helping them recognize how they behave when they are really tired will allow them to notice internally what it feels like when they are not getting enough sleep.    

Tracey Tucker is the executive director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.


Categories: Raising Teens & Tweens