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4 Solutions to Teen Sleep Problems
Sleep Depriving Problem: Your teen is hardwired to stay up.
"At puberty the architecture of sleep changes," says Maas. Until adolescence, melatonin, the hormone that triggers the onset of sleep, is released in the afternoon as daylight fades. But for reasons that are still unclear, teens receive these hormonal signals later in the evening, delaying the time they start to feel sleepy by about two hours.
Sleep Solution: Reset the internal clock.
A consistent bedtime routine is just as important now as it was when he was a toddler. To prove it to him, pick one week when he'll test out your theory. First, work backward by subtracting 10 hours from when he needs to wake up. If your 13-year-old's alarm rings at 7 on school days, then the TV needs to go off at 9 each night followed by a half-hour of (nonscreen) mellow activities like reading for pleasure. For the 16-year-old who you let sleep till 9:30 on the weekends, set her curfew for 11:30 so she's asleep by midnight. Another option is to have your child go to sleep 15 minutes earlier every night for four or five nights until he regains an hour. "If he thinks your edict will be in force all year, he won't agree," says Mindell. "But for one week? He can do that. And he'll be surprised at how dramatically different he feels."
Sleep Depriving Problem: Your teen's connected 24/7.
Kids today are tethered to technology. "With more ways to stay connected, we see an increase in night-owlism among teens," says Dr. Emsellem.
Sleep Solution: Pull the plug.
Work with your teen to structure specific time slots during the evening when she watches a favorite TV show — or texts and makes calls. Make sure phones and the Internet are off during study times (unless needed for schoolwork). Veto all screens (TV, computer, handhelds, iPods) 30 minutes before lights-out and have her hand over her phone for the night.
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Sleep Depriving Problem: Your teen's stress levels are off the charts.
Whether it's headaches or stomachaches, overeating or not eating, signs of extreme stress among teens are becoming more and more common. In a recent study, researchers found a strong link between sleeplessness in adolescents and a wide range of physical, psychological and interpersonal problems, including anxiety and depression.
Solution: Dial down the tension.
Two of the best stress busters are being organized and exercising — but they're often the hardest things for overcommitted teens to implement into their lives. Start off with a day planner to track what's due when, as well as tests, family events and extracurricular obligations. Brainstorm ways to streamline the morning routine (pick out clothes the night before, fill the backpack, place sports equipment by the door). Once he's better organized, he'll have time for exercise, whether it's shooting baskets or going for a bike ride.
Help him figure out how to wind down before bed — maybe it's taking a warm shower or listening to quiet music. If your child seems unusually stressed and won't confide in you, perhaps a favorite aunt, or coach, school psychologist or clergyman can help.
Sleep Depriving Problem: A busy bedroom.
It's critical for teens to separate their daytime from their nighttime.
Solution: Create a sleep-friendly zone.
"A cluttered room ramps up anxiety," says Dr. Emsellem. Ask if you can help sort through the piles while still being respectful of her territory. Give her a budget, but free rein, to design her own sanctuary. Paint the walls a calming blue, green or tan. Save the bedroom for sleeping and relaxing. If there's no other quiet place to work, suggest she study only at her desk, not on the bed. Lower the thermostat to 68 degrees. Consider installing blackout shades — but to combat grogginess, open them the minute she gets up.
Originally published in the March 1, 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.