Is your teen getting enough sleep?


Your teenager yawns through class, naps after
school, and practically needs a bullhorn to get
out of bed in the morning. Rest assured (no pun
intended), the odds are your teen is healthy,
just sleep-deprived. Dr. Shirley Blaichman,
a pediatrician in Montreal, says she sees
fatigue in this age group just about every day
in her office. “This is as common with teens
as it is with that little infant who just won’t
sleep through the night!” she says. In fact, the
Canadian Paediatric Society estimates that as
many as 40 percent of teenagers spend their
days struggling to keep their eyes open.

Although sleepiness is a problem shared
by many kids this age, it shouldn’t be
dismissed. Tired teenagers have more difficulty
concentrating on their school lessons and
remembering what they’ve learned. They’re at
higher risk for depression. They’re even more
likely to be in car accidents. “There doesn’t have
to be an underlying disease, but it certainly can
have effects on how the teen is functioning,”
says Dr. Blaichman.

Teenagers need a lot of shut-eye – nine to
10 hours a night. In fact, sleep requirements
increase in this age group, at a time when many
busy kids are going to bed later than ever. If
your child has an evening soccer game, band
practice or part-time job, then comes home to
a pile of schoolwork and social media, it can be
hours before it’s time to call it a night. There’s
also evidence that the circadian clock shifts at
puberty, keeping your kid wide awake later. If
regular bedtime is 11 p.m. and the alarm rings
at 7 a.m., your teen may eventually feel pretty
knackered.

Screen time can also keep your teen alert
at night. Researchers have found that backlit
electronic devices like laptops, smartphones
and tablets can disrupt the circadian rhythm
and make it tough to fall asleep. Ideally, these
gadgets shouldn’t be used within two or three
hours of bedtime.

Another factor: Sleeping ’til noon on
Saturday and Sunday instead of waking up
close to the weekday wake-up time. “The
greater the difference there is between the
weekday and the weekend, the more likely there
will be difficulty falling asleep,” Dr. Blaichman
says. The solution? Keep it consistent.

Other ways to improve your teen’s sleep
routine include reserving the bedroom for
sleeping, instead of gaming or gabbing on the
phone, and making sure the room is cool, dark
and quiet at night. Remind your child to avoid
caffeine after mid-afternoon. That includes
colas, energy drinks and chocolatey treats. A
calming routine like a warm bath or a good
book will help prep your child for sleep.

If your child is tired despite gettting enough
sleep, if sleep patterns have changed, or if
you’ve noticed other symptoms (see sidebar) see
your healthcare provider. The doctor will check
for any underlying medical factors that might
interfere with feeling well-rested. Even if your
kid is completely healthy, a doctor can offer
advice for behaviour changes that might help.
It’s especially important to have a chat with a
healthcare professional before trying over-thecounter
sleep remedies such as melatonin.

It’s probably more challenging to increase
the amount of time spent in bed. After all, most
high schools start early, and teens do have
hectic schedules. So how do we get them to
put out the light at night? Work together with
your teen to map out solutions. Maybe reduce
extracurricular activities, or wait until the
weekend to catch up on favourite TV shows.

“Have a look at their overall schedule,” says
Dr. Blaichman. But don’t cut out all the fun,
either. “You don’t want a teen just going to
school and doing homework. There has to be a
balance.”

When sleepiness is a warning sign

“We don’t want to miss
a medical problem, but
in the vast majority of
teens there isn’t one,”
says pediatrician Shirley
Blaichman. But don’t
ignore these symptoms:

  • Mood or behaviour
    changes that might
    be associated with
    depression, anxiety or
    substance abuse.
  • Aches and pains, like
    headaches or stomach
    cramps.
  • Snoring, which could
    be a sign of sleep apnea.
  • Night waking, with
    difficulty falling back to
    sleep.
  • Loss of appetite or any
    other signs of illness.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July 2013.

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