The brain is an incredible biological computer, but like any device it requires proper care and management.
That’s the message Sleep Medicine Physician Conrad Iber, MD, wants parents to consider when they consider their teenager’s sleep habits. Sleepy, tired teenagers may not be lazy or lacking in motivation. Instead, the source of this behavior may be due to the fact that teens need more sleep.
This summer, the American Society of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines that—for the first time—spell out how much sleep children of different age groups should be getting. For teenagers ages 13-18, it’s 8-10 hours per 24-hour period. This recommendation is based on our understanding of the brain’s biological necessities, Iber said.
“The brain needs to remodel itself,” Iber said. “It also needs to clear out neurotoxins and it needs to this period of time for emotional regulation.” A well-rested child, may perform better academically, express improved emotional regulation and engage in less risky behavior, Iber added.
To help, Iber outlined some important recommendations that parents should consider implementing.
Iber recommends an 11 p.m. bedtime for teenagers. But consistency is also important. Parents should work with teenagers to help them find an established sleep time—with a “wind down” before it—that ensures a healthy amount of sleep each night but still allows for a regular schedule of school and activities.
If a teenager is going to regularly go to sleep around 11 p.m., then they should have a wind-down time beginning at 10 p.m., Iber said. During a wind down, teens should be engaged in quiet activity—but not homework. This could include quiet music or reading. Exposure to bright lights and illuminated screens should be avoided.
Light is fundamentally an enemy of sleep. Light stimulates the brain and improves cognitive function and alertness. So bright lights, especially white or blue light, tends to delay sleep. If your child is going to bed at 11 p.m., they should avoid the illuminated screens of a smartphone or TV after 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m.
Energy drinks, coffee, tea. Teenagers often consume caffeine until late in the day, and that’s a problem, Iber said. Caffeine remains in the system for six hours or more, which means that evening doses will last well into the night. As a general rule, kids should not drink more than three caffeinated beverages daily and none after 3 p.m., Iber said.
Parents should engage the teenagers in these solutions, Iber said. “Teenagers should look at this in a positive way,” Iber said. “Healthy sleep can boost academic and even athletic performance and help improve their facial complexion. Parents should relay those messages as well.” Helping teens plan and budget time for homework and study can also prevent last-minute crunches that delay needed sleep and result in poor academic performance.
If you’ve tried establishing up a regular schedule and your teenager is still struggling to fall asleep, or cannot get enough sleep, then it might be time to talk to your primary care physician or a sleep medicine physician. Sleep medicine experts can help assess and identify the root of the problem, and may offer an array of solutions.