Rebels without a cause. Emotional. Distracted.
People tend to think of these things when they think of teenagers. There’s also the reputation adolescents have for staying in bed. Sometimes there’s just no waking them up.
Parents were teenagers once and they know what it’s like. They understand it’s a difficult time, so they just let them sleep, thinking it’s the best thing to do.
Is it the wrong or the right thing to do, though?
Why are teenagers so hard to get up in the first place?
Teenagers say they sleep terrifically, even though you have to almost crowbar them out of bed. Some suffer from delayed sleep phase syndrome – sometimes referred to as ‘night owl syndrome’ – which can make it difficult to fall asleep at certain times and is a potential reason for the late nights.
Then there’s the question of the different sleep phases. There are two main categories: rapid eye movement (REM), which is when we dream, and non-REM. This latter category is a deeper type of sleep and has three different stages:
- Stage 1: a non-restorative, light doze.
- Stage 2: restorative middle sleep.
- Stage 3: slow-wave, deep sleep (the most restorative).
Teenagers have the blessing of enjoying more of the deeper, slow-wave sleep. This privilege wanes as they move towards adulthood and the second stage, middle sleep, takes more of its place. This is why they feel as if they’ve slept so much better than the rest of us at times!
Should we let them sleep all day, though?
Tricky one. There’s no rule book on parenting, unfortunately. The one thing of which we do need to be aware is the damage chronic sleep deprivation can cause, which can be anything from obesity to strokes, heart problems and other unpleasant conditions. If we’re not getting enough sleep regularly, we could end up suffering from more than just a bad mood.
In fact, in the US, there have been calls for schools to start later. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has stipulated that if teenagers don’t get enough sleep, they’re more likely to:
- Become overweight.
- Not take part in physical activity.
- Engage in drug taking, smoke, drink and observe other risky behaviours.
- Suffer from depression.
- Perform badly in school.
Parents need to think about all these things, especially this last point about school performance. A lack of sleep can restrict the ability to learn, concentrate, listen and solve problems. It can make a person become forgetful. This is not good news if you’re still growing up, still trying to make sense of the world and, gradually, working towards finding your way in it.
Some parts of the US have taken this on board. Lawmakers in California are trying to introduce legislation that would prevent schools in the state from opening before 8:30 am. The aim of the proposal is to improve the academic performance of school pupils and also their mental health, but it’s been met with resistance in the past.
Tinkering with the internal clock
This is the one other thing we need to realise. When teenagers sleep till later at the weekends, they give their body the option to reset. It then becomes harder for them to wake up for school because they’re natural sleep-wake cycle has become disrupted.
Going from getting up late on a Saturday or Sunday to getting up a few hours earlier again on Monday is a bit like jet lag to the body. It’s not a nice transition. The time in the world around them might be 7:00 am, but it still feels like the middle of the night to their body. As a result, they still struggle in class during the week.
The jury is still out on this one.
If you’re worried your teen isn’t getting enough sleep and you’re afraid to let them stay in bed too long, make them understand that sleep is a priority. Encourage them to make positive lifestyle choices which enable them to sleep more, such as not drinking caffeine close to bedtime, as well as ask them to do their homework earlier rather than stay up past their bedtime doing it.
Lessening that sleep deficit will make life easier for them. It can benefit their health and it may even take the edge of that rebellious streak of theirs!