Ah, summer vacation. For teens and adolescents, it may be a signal to become nocturnal, staying up long into the night in the glow of a screen and lounging in bed until well past noon.
Now with school buses making their crack-of-dawn pickups, what’s the best way to help your tween or teen get back on a healthy sleep schedule?
A regular sleep schedule is important for everyone, said Dr. Brett Volpe, a board certified sleep specialist at MidState Medical Center’s Sleep Care Center. Early to bed and early to rise may sound like an old-fashioned proverb, but, Volpe said, there’s good science behind it.
“An irregular sleep schedule makes it harder for your brain and body to rest properly,” said Volpe. “The brain and body work on a timer just like when you get hungry or thirsty. So when you’re not getting enough sleep and not following a scheduled sleeping pattern, it’s almost like you’re intentionally putting yourself through jet lag.”
For teens, the most important tip for getting to sleep earlier may be the hardest: Unplug!
“Phones, laptops, electronics, all contribute to Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, which is quite rampant in teenagers and young adults,” said Volpe.
It’s not just the distraction. The light from the screens go straight to the retina in the eye. The retina then sends that information to the hypothalamus, which essentially regulates the body’s internal clock.
“So the information the retina is sending to the hypothalamus is keeping your brain and body awake,’’ Volpe said.
Volpe suggests helping your sleepy children re-set their internal clock by exposing them to bright light at 7 or 8 a.m. Open the shades, turn on a light a half hour or so every morning and the body clock will slowly re-set. Slowly moving bed time closer to a reasonable hour will complete the process.
Here’s another tip that might be tough for teens: Cut back on caffeine.
That iced grande mocha latte that goes down like a milkshake may be keeping you up at night, even if you had it at 11 a.m., Volpe says. And don’t forget that many brands of soda also are hidden sources of caffeine.
“A lot of people don’t realize that caffeine has a half-life of 12-16 hours, so even high-caffeine foods and drinks we take in the morning, can potentially affect our sleeping that night,” Volpe said. “ Especially in younger adults and children, caffeine may have more of an effect on them and become more of a factor.”