Adolescents have a reputation for sleeping all the time — for good reason. Most of the time, this is a perfectly normal aspect of adolescence. This sudden change in sleep patterns, even if it’s perfectly normal, probably looks like a serious problem. There are instances, in extreme cases, where all this sleep is an indicator of a deeper, underlying issues, but most of the time the change in sleep patterns is normal and some of the pain can be alleviated with a few simple rules. This article will explain the reasons for this sudden change in sleep patterns and whether or not you should be concerned. It will then make a few suggestions — things you can do to try to alleviate the problem as much as possible.
Is my teen normal?
So, where is this need for sleep coming from? Most of the time, the reasons are biological and perfectly normal. With all the huge changes that are happening during adolescence, it’s easy to see why the body would need more rest. Teenagers’ bodies are growing at the fastest rate since they were toddlers, and the hormonal changes that are taking place are huge. Another normal reason for seemingly perpetual sleepiness is a biological shift in the circadian — the Body Clock. During puberty, the normal sleep patterns shift to later. That’s later to sleep and later to wake up. Unfortunately, school is still pretty early in the morning. That means that teens naturally got to sleep later than they used to but still have to wake up at the same time. This robs the already sleep-starved body of sleep.
There are, of course, medical disorders that can be the root of extreme sleep patterns. These are rare, but worth looking into if your child’s sleep patterns become a problem. Here are a few issues that may indicate that your child needs help:
• Misses morning classes often
• Grades start to fall
• Often sleeps during class
• Excessive after-school napping
• Excessive weekend catch-up sleep (wakes up at noon or later)
• Involvement in a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel
What Can I Do?
While it may not be possible to completely solve the problem (that would mean pushing back the beginning of the school day), there are several things that you, as a parent, can do to make the problem a bit easier to deal with for your child. They probably won’t like some of these solutions at first, but if you explain to them that these measures will help them get the rest they need, they may be more open to the idea.
1) Pay attention to what time your child is going to bed. Most teenagers need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep each night. 9.5 hours may not be a realistic goal, but try to set a time that gets them the most sleep possible.
2) Limit nap times. If your adolescent child gets home from school and immediately takes a two-hour nap in front of the TV, their sleep patterns are going to be all over the place. Limit naps to 30 minutes.
3) Try to keep weekday and weekend wake-up times as close as possible. Waking up every weekday at 7:00 AM, then noon on Saturday and Sunday will make it impossible to teach your body reasonable sleep patterns.
4) Remove electronic devices from your child’s bedroom. Electronics make it more difficult to fall asleep, and the endless distraction is impossible for teens to ignore. Put your child’s phone charger in another room so it stays put when they go to bed.
5) See a sleep doctor if your child snores or seems extremely sleepy despite getting plenty (more than 8 hours) of sleep every night. An overnight sleep evaluation can speak volumes about the true cause of a sleep disorder.
While a drastic increase in sleep times can be a real problem for both you and your teenager, most of the time it’s both unavoidable and perfectly normal. There are, of course, times when you should get help for your child if sleep patterns begin to get in the way of their everyday lives. There are other issues, such as drug use, that can cause drastic changes in sleep patterns, as well. If you begin to notice dangerous behaviors and a drop in scholastic performance, talk to your teen immediately. Once you’re had a conversation, it may be time to involve a counselor or therapist. If you feel that your child needs help, contact us.