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But I’m Not Tired! Helping Your Sleep-Deprived Teen

16-year-old Shea Rhodes doesn’t usually go to bed until 2:30am on weeknights. So naturally, getting up for school can be a little rough. “Shea is very difficult to wake up in the morning. It takes several attempts every morning to get him out of bed. He takes naps when he gets home, then can’t sleep. It is a vicious circle,” says his mother, Beth Rhodes. The problem is Shea just isn’t getting enough sleep.

This isn’t news to many parents of teenagers. Most teens aren’t getting enough sleep. According to a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, 69 per cent of high school students are getting less than seven hours of sleep each night, as opposed to only 8 per cent of teens who are getting the ideal amount of nine hours or more. Lack of a good night’s sleep leads to all sorts of problems ranging from general crabbiness and poor grades, to more critical situations like depression and drowsy driving.

Oftentimes, parents of teens become frustrated with their child, blaming them for staying up too late at night, but it may not be their fault. “Children entering puberty experience a biological change, a shift in body rhythm,” says Lawrence MacDonald, M.D., FACP, medical director for The Center for Respiratory and Sleep Disorders. This shift causes teens to stay up later and, thus, need to arise later. “Parents think their child is just being lazy, but it’s the way their brains are set. It’s like they have permanent jet lag.”

Lack of a good night’s sleep negatively affects school work as well. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2006 Sleep poll found “at least once a week, more than one-quarter of high school students fall asleep in school, 22 per cent fall asleep doing homework and 14 per cent arrive late or miss school because they oversleep.”

Although there’s a biological cause, a typical teenager’s lifestyle plays a contributing factor as well. Staying up late on social media, playing videogames and watching TV, all negatively affect a teenager’s inner body clock. So what’s a conscientious parent to do in order to help their teen get a good night’s sleep?

“Encourage your child to take a look at his or her schedule. Sports, extracurricular and social activities,” says MacDonald. “Have them figure out what time they need to get up in the morning, and then work backwards from there.”

Set a communication curfew. Half-an-hour before bedtime, have your teen hand over all electronic devices and turn off the TV.

Establish a bedtime routine. When they were younger, the rituals of brushing teeth and bedtime stories helped their mind know it was time for sleep.

Encourage your teen to wind down each night by reading or listening to mellow music.

Avoid caffeine after lunch. It stays in the system for hours making it difficult to fall asleep.

Avoid bright lights in the evening; darkness lets your body know it’s time for sleep.

If your teen uses these techniques and is still unable to fall asleep by a reasonable hour, then it’s time to consult a sleep specialist. According to MacDonald, “Up to 10 per cent of teens experience something called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. Some kids can’t go to bed before 2am or 3am, even if they want to.” But Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is very treatable. “We see a lot of it. Within a few weeks to a month, we can reset their body clock.”

Holly is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in regional, national and online publications. Follow her on Twitter  @hbowne1 and visit her at where she blogs about writing, life and parenting her college-age children (who think they don’t need any more parenting).


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