Parents need to stop tip-toeing around their sleep-deprived teens and take firm steps to get adolescents sleeping soundly, experts warn.
Sleep specialists at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney are calling on parents to step up and act as bedroom vigilantes to curb rising rates of sleep deprivation among Australian high school students.
“Mums and dads have the power to dramatically improve their children’s sleep but sadly many are failing to take action because they fear the fights it will trigger,” explains Woolcock Adolescent Sleep Physician Dr Chris Seton. “What they don’t realise is that the cost of this inaction is huge. Their children are so sleep deprived that all the efforts parents make to provide a good education are often wasted. Kids are not learning anything when they’re tired.”
Help is at hand however, with Woolcock specialists hosting a Sleep Education Seminar designed to empower parents and leave teens feeling well slept and clear headed.
Research shows that teenagers need about 9.5 hours of sleep each night, but most – about 70 per cent - only average 7 hours. “That means that young people are in 10-15 hours of sleep debt by the end of the 5-day school-week, so it makes sense that many sleep in on weekends or nap to catch up,” Dr Seton says. “Unfortunately though, over-sleeping on weekends actually continues the cycle of poor sleep and ultimately makes things worse.”
This habit develops at the same time many parents hand over sleep responsibility to their youngsters. “Parents often wash their hands of the sleep issue because they worry about arguments and because there’s this feeling that ‘everyone else is doing it’. They may also think their child is old enough now to take responsibility for their own sleep. “Sadly this is not the case. Kids are poor sleep managers. They’re addicted to screens, place no value on sleep, and have serious FOMO that keeps them up on social media late at night. Parents must act as bedroom vigilantes and take action.”
The Woolcock has enacted a 4-step plan to help parents get their kids sleeping well. First up, chat to your teen about the benefits of sleep and broker an agreement on a sensible, regular, weeknight bedtime. “Work out bedtime by counting back from wake up time,” Dr Seton suggests. “If a child needs to be up at 7am then they need to be in bed by 9.15 pm so they’re asleep by 9.30pm in order to get that crucial 9.5 hours sleep.”
Next up, help your child set up a pre-bed routine of relaxing activities, like a hot bath, warm drink or soothing music, to help “tell” the brain sleep is coming. Step 3 is simple: Ensure that bedtime and lights out occur in tandem so the teen’s brain associates the bed with sleep only.
Step 4 requires parents draw up a digital contract with their youngster to restrict screen use at night. Managing screen use requires parents to physically remove phones and laptops from bedrooms at night, ban desktop computers from rooms altogether, or disable all technology through the family modem. “This is not likely to be popular but it needs to happen. Screens are the single biggest sleep disrupter in the modern word. Managing their use is key to solving sleep problems.”
Woolcock Sleep Psychologist Dr Amanda Gamble has a few other important pieces of advice to impart. “Start this conversation early! It’s far easier to talk about the importance of sleep with a 12 year old than it is with a 16 year old. Changing habits early will help set your child up with better habits later.”
Dr Gamble says it’s important that parents lead by example. “Be careful what you’re modelling for your kids. Limit your own use of devices in the hour before bed to show that you take device use seriously and also value sleep.”
Parents should also be aware of the biggest teen sleep myth. “There’s a real misconception out there that teenagers sleep in because they are lazy,” she says. “They’re not lazy at all, just chronically sleep deprived. They sleep in as a means of trying to catch up but this only makes matters worse. That’s why your tired youngster desperately needs you to step in and help them get more sleep every night.”
When teenagers are very resistant to change it’s worth considering that a teenager’s use of devices at night may be a symptom of a much larger problem, like feelings of stress, sadness or frustration.
Parents are invited to attend a Woolcock Sleep Education Seminar that teaches all you need to know about adolescent sleep, as well as showing you how to detect problems and implement practical assistance for your sleepy teenager.