Articles Tweens Teens & Twenties

Sleep Deprivation and Over-Scheduled Teens

by Dr. Melanie Ross Mills | Contributor

If you’re the parent of a teen, then you know that teens today are faced with busy schedules and heavy demands. Depending on the individual teen, they may handle their load with ease, but most have to hone their ability to manage time and cultivate self-awareness, self-discipline, and prioritization.

Think about a teen’s typical school day. They usually wake up early and go to bed late (with no nap in-between). They’re faced with the demands of schoolwork, taking the “right” coursework, excelling in sports, band, choir, cheerleading, drill team, theatre, or some combination thereof. They strive to be on the right committees, and they look for ways to “get ahead” so that they have multiple college options. Whew! They’re also dealing with the daily pressures of pleasing their parents, social expectations, home environment influences, sibling relations, while at the same time processing societal and social media messages. Then, there’s the underlying desire to feel accepted and wanted by their peers and their “crush of the week.” Regardless of what activities they do, there’s over-scheduling, constant pressure, and then sleep deprivation that negatively impact their ability to perform physically, emotionally, and mentally.

So, what can a parent do to help? You may not be able to free your teen from the pressure, but you can help them manage their sleep so that their body and mind are ready to face the challenges of the next day.

A recent National Academy of Science study showed that the average high school student is getting 7 hours of sleep (and 26 percent sleep 6 hours or less) per night during the week. This study also revealed that the average teen needs around 8 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Some studies suggest that adolescents (from puberty until 20 years of age) need 9.2 hours of sleep. This means that our teens are starting their day with a sleep deficit.

Dr. Owens, a pediatric sleep specialist at Children’s National Health System in Washington states, “Insufficient sleep in adolescence increases the risks of high blood pressure and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Sleeplessness is also linked to risk-taking behavior, depression and suicidal ideation, and car accidents.” And we wonder why our teens are moody, impatient, and discontent.

Helping your teen learn to value sleep can lead to better life-management skills. Learning how to establish sleep boundaries can translate into learning how to set boundaries in other areas of life. Additionally, with better sleep habits, your teen is giving their body and mind time to regenerate, thus becoming healthier.

Life is challenging for our teens. Their schedules seem to get busier and busier as they get older and older. As parents, if we are exhausted helping them manage their lives, we can only imagine how they must feel. Helping them maintain adequate sleep will set them up for optimal performance mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Sleep is an area that’s often overlooked at the end of the day.

Questions? Reach Dr. Mills at melanierossmills.com

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