Family:Teenage sleep patterns

Your teenager’s sleeping patterns may drive you mad, but there is a likely reason for those bleary eyes.

By Donna Fleming

Sometimes, getting your teenager up in the morning can be like trying to wake the dead. And when you do manage to haul them out, they act like a zombie. Often, they’ve been up to the wee small hours of the night before, but trying to convince them to go to bed earlier can be a losing battle.

Your teenager’s sleeping patterns may drive you mad, but there is a likely reason for those bleary eyes.

It’s normal

It’s natural for children to stay up late. The onset of puberty changes a child’s circadian rhythm. That’s the sleep timing system that triggers melatonin – a hormone that makes you sleepy.

As children start to mature into adults, their bodies start secreting melatonin later in the evening, so they don’t feel tired and want to stay up later.

Their “sleep pressure rate”– the rate at which sleepiness builds up over the day – also slows down.

Aim for nine hours

Teenagers need around nine hours of sleep to be fully alert during the day. A US study found 90% of high-school students get less than nine hours, while 10% get less than six hours. Being sleep deprived can lead to difficulty concentrating and learning, and may also result in mood swings and behavioural problems.

Check it out

Some medical conditions can cause sleep problems. These include obstructive sleep apnoea, narcolepsy and depression. Disrupted sleep can also be a side effect of medication.

Words of warning

Try to encourage your teen to get more sleep, and tell them a lack of shuteye is bad for their health. This may not work with teenagers who think they’re bulletproof. Instead, point out they could flunk their favourite subject if they can’t concentrate in class, and that their grumpiness will lose them friends. If that doesn’t work, you may have to get tough about bedtime and when lights go out.

Bedroom ban

Not only can watching television, being on the computer, or playing games on hand-held devices keep them up late, but the sounds and light they give off can trick the teenager’s brain into thinking it is still daytime, and they don’t feel sleepy at all. You may need to set a time for all electronic items to be switched off, and be vigilant about making them stick to it.

Use light wisely

At night, dim the lights in their room. It will signal to their brains that it’s time to get tired. Once in bed, make sure all the lights are off and it is as dark as possible. Then, in the morning when it is time to get up, open all the curtains to get as much light in as possible. This helps to set the brain into the correct rhythm.

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