“Insufficient sleep in adolescents [is] an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students.” – The American Academy of Pediatrics
Awhile back, my son was invited to a “sleepover birthday party” at a friend’s house. I was hesitant. Much like a doctor whose child gets a cough and she runs through the possible causes and medical outcomes in her head, as a psychotherapist, I have a running list of possible causes and mental health and wellbeing outcomes in my head for most situations! I know what stress does to a nervous system. I know how good sleep is key to healthy functioning. I know the negative impact of sleep-deprivation. And I know the slippery slope we can slide down when we say “yes” to one thing that really isn’t that great for our kiddos. The research on “teenage brains” ran through my brain as I held the party invitation in my hand.
But what also ran through my brain is how our son is entering adolescence. And that means a lot of things! But one is: some more independence. We decided to see how it goes and he could go to the sleepover.
Well, guess what? He came back exhausted. The parents had let the celebration continue until 2 am. When I picked up our son the next morning, I could tell that he was exhausted. So was every other child.
Parents joked a bit about how tired their kids would be by lunch time. Inside, I was thinking, “Lisa, you should’ve spoke up and asked about bedtime for the party. Dammit!”
My son is a pretty level-headed tween and really self-aware. We got into the car and he said, “Well, that was a mistake.”
“What was?” I asked.
“Staying up so late,” he said.
“Hmmm,” I simply said. I knew his brain wasn’t up for a talk. And I knew he was learning from this experience rather than me telling him, “I KNEW I was right!!!”
The next day, I asked him, “What did you notice about staying up so late?”
We talked about what he saw in himself. He talked about how it’s pretty appealing to stay up late and play video games or hang out with friends! And we talked about what it takes to care for himself. One late night once in awhile? No big deal. We talked about discerning which night that is based on responsibilities he has that weekend — like Boy Scouts, soccer, church, and family events. We talked about what he notices when he is better rested on a consistent basis.
I’m big on my kiddos deepening their self-awareness because more and more, they’ll be “out of the nest” and making decisions on their own when we as their parents aren’t around. And we as parents want our children to build up that muscle of self-awareness so they are intrinsically motivated to care for themselves in nourishing ways and make good decisions – as best as their growing brains can!
My son learned from his experience — and our talks — that his sleep matters.
Consistent, good sleep is like superfood for our children’s growing brains.
A new study led by San Diego State University Professor of Psychology Jean Twenge finds that adolescents today are sleeping fewer hours per night than older generations. One possible reason cited is that young people are trading their sleep for smartphone time.
Whether its birthday parties, video games, or smartphones…
What’s the big deal?
One study, reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that “shorter sleep duration and greater daytime sleepiness in year 1 were associated with increased odds of having had a full drink of alcohol, having engaged in heavy episodic drinking, and having experienced alcohol-related consequences by year 4. Shorter sleep duration was also associated with increased odds of marijuana use by year 4.”
Another study, cited in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that poor sleep affect changes in emotional well-being among youths.
Research conducted by Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D., has raised public health issues regarding the consequences of insufficient sleep in adolescents. From impacting eating behaviors to mental health, sleep is a key element to wellbeing.
Forget being the “cool parents” who let their children and friends who sleeping over stay up late. You and I aren’t out to be the coolest parents on the block. We’re out to be the parents who remembers the bigger picture. We’re out to be the parents who set our children up to be at their best, so they can:
- respond instead of react.
- feel clear and focused.
- stay safe behind the wheel.
- make better life decisions.
- perform at their best.
I get it. The teenage brain is programmed to want to stay up later. Teens are going through a biological shift of a later sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin release happens around 11 pm, giving them that extra boost of energy to stay up late.
I get it. Most of us are walking around sleep deprived too.
I get it. There are special nights and events when we and our children will be up late.
But on a regular basis, we can help our children be at their best when they are getting consistently good sleep.
Sleep deprivation in teens can have harmful consequences, impacting their mental health and impairing their judgment. We want to keep our children safe. We want to help them make the best possible decisions about safety when we aren’t around — and in a time in their lives when that frontal cortex that’s responsible for good decision making is still developing!
Sleep is a free superfood for our children’s brains.
Right now in the United States, our teens are rising and advocating for social causes that are significant to them. Let’s set our children up to be at their best. Let’s fuel them with good sleep so their big hearts and ideas can inspire great change in our country.
Imagine the innovative and creative ideas our teens could bring into our world if they were better rested. Imagine the focus at school and work they could have if they made good sleep a priority. Imagine how better they could respond with compassion instead of reacting from overly sensitive nerves if they got better sleep.
Sleep is something that we often overlook as a remedy to moodiness, fatigue, and poor decision making. But as a Somatic Psychotherapist and personal coach, one thing I always tell my clients is “get consistently better sleep.” For you and for your children.
Your teenager’s brain is growing so rapidly and good, consistent sleep is a superfood for their brains. Let’s fuel them with the good stuff. And, in the case of sleep, this “good stuff'” is free!
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