Janine has been asleep for the past couple of hours when there is a strange buzzing sound that is coming from her night table. Janine wakes up in a fog and habitually reaches for the buzzing object. The adrenaline begins to surge through her body as it recognizes that familiar buzz as the cell phone going off. Janine snaps on her phone and is temporarily blinded by the bright backlight of the phone. Her eyes quickly adapt to the glare to read the latest text message from her friend, who has been dealing with an unrequited love over the past few days. Janine responds by quickly texting her friend some reassurance that the boy does indeed like her and she just needs to be patient. After sending the text, Janine is awake as her body begins to relax and gets ready to go back to sleep.
Even though the reading and sending of the text takes only seconds, Janine lies awake for the next 15 minutes. This happens three more times during the night and Janine is exhausted when she is forcefully woken up by her parents for school. This particular scenario is all too common for teenagers. One poll found that 84% of teens with cell phones sleep with them at night. The constant waking throughout the night compounds many sleep related issues with teens.
Even without cell phones, teens’ waking and sleeping cycles are off kilter with most school and work schedules. Teens prefer to stay up late and sleep long into the morning. The difficulty is that the school schedule does not work that way and teens need to be strongly encouraged to fight against their natural impulses and go to sleep earlier than they feel they really have to. Add to that the issue of being woken up time and again by cell phone messages and you have a serious problem.
A lack of sleep has serious implications. These include academic and behavior problems, tardiness and absenteeism, reduced alertness, and heightened irritability. Unlike adults, teens need more sleep, roughly 8½ to 9½ hours per night. Most teens do not get that with fairly predictable results.
Parents are not powerless over this and can do several things to increase the amount of sleep their teen is getting. First, make a rule that all household cell phones are deposited in a drawer by the parents’ bed with the phones switched off. Second, gradually adjust the lighting as it gets close to bed time so as to encourage the body to wind down from the day. Third, stick to a regular sleep schedule. The body loves routine and sleeping is a routine. Fourth, don’t let your teen take long naps as that will throw off her sleep cycle and make it difficult to fall asleep at bed time. Fifth, avoid caffeine as this is a stimulant and will keep your teen awake. Finally, have your teen engaging in a relaxing activity like taking a shower and not one more round on their gaming system. Following these steps should lead to a better rested teen and more family harmony.
This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in March, 2011.