Feisty or Fatigued? Could Your Teen’s Sleep Explain His Behavior?

teen sleep deprivationDoes this sound familiar?

“She gets angry or starts crying at the drop of a hat. Everything is a BIG deal!”

“It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, he’ll start yelling at me. Then two days later, he’s hugging on me and being really sweet.”

He’s so lazy! He can’t motivate at all to do his school work but he’ll be up all night playing video games.”

“He comes home and crashes on the couch. After an hour and a half nap he’s up. And then I find out he didn’t go back to sleep until 3am!”

While there could be multiple causes for tween and teen tantrums and dips in mood, it’s worth finding out if your child’s sleep (of lack there of) could be the culprit. Remember when your teen was a toddler and you often blamed difficult behavior on a missed nap or a long day? Well, this is one of the many tween and teen behaviors that parallel with the toddler years.

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is nutrition for our brains and bodies and the ultimate reset button for living in a stress filled world. Numerous studies show a correlation between lack of sleep and mental health issues including depression, anxiety and emotional volatility. As if being a teenager weren’t hard enough, adding a dose of sleep deprivation can completely tip the balance on a teen’s mood, perception and self-control.

When kids are brought into our office for emotional or behavioral issues, the quality of their sleep is one of the first inquiries we make. And unlike the toddler years, many parents are unaware that their child is staying up late or waking up in the night. While teen sleep deprivation may not account for all of the behavior you see, a rested teen can definitely have a negative impact on your child (and all those who live with him).

According to the National Sleep Foundation teens need between 8-10 hours of sleep per night but only 15% of teens get an adequate amount of rest.

Why is good sleep so illusive for tweens and teens? There are a whole host of reasons that tweens and teens struggle to get enough sleep:

  • Biological changes in adolescence cause teens to be more awake in the evening hours. Many times, school schedules do not accommodate this change, which means some teens will get shortchanged on sleep.
  • Demands on your teenager’s time be it homework, extra curricular activities, video games or socializing can easily keep teens up into wee hours of the morning.
  • On weekends, teens tend to stay up late at night and sleep well into the day. This irregular sleep schedule impacts the quality of their sleep.teen sleep deprivation
  • Stress and worry (of which there is often plenty in adolescence) can prevent restful sleep.

For these reasons, it is important for parents to teach and encourage their teens to practice good sleep hygiene and take concerted efforts to combat teen sleep deprivation.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene refers to practices that promote health-producing sleep. Below are some common sleep hygiene recommendations. They could be the magic elixir that transforms Mr. Hyde back to Dr. Jekyll.

  • No caffeine after 2pm (this may also apply to some medications).
  • No naps during the day.
  • Have a wind-down routine before bed.
  • Use bed only for sleep (not homework or stressful conversations with friends or parents) so that it doesn’t become associated with stress.
  • Turn off all backlit devices (computers, cell phones, television) 1-2 hours before bed.
  • Have ways to keep your mind occupied but relaxed while waiting to fall asleep.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends).
  • Don’t spend a lot of time tossing and turning in your bed. It’s better to get up and do something that’s not too stimulating for 5-10 minutes and then return to bed for sleep.

While these suggestions are simple, they are usually not easy for teenagers. Our next post will offer some tips for helping your tween or teen develop healthy sleep hygiene practices.

CAR THOUGHT (something to ponder as you shuttle your kids about): How much sleep does your child typically get per night? What are the reasons that your child has the sleep pattern that she has?

We want to hear from you! Tell us your thoughts about sleep hygiene!