Sleep Care

The ABZ’s of Tween Sleep

As children grow toward adolescence and the preteen years, they often want to assert their new status by staying up later at night. Unfortunately, both tweens and teens still need their sleep – as much as 9.5 to 10 hours a night. In fact, during puberty a tween’s sleep needs actually increase. During sleep, important body functions and brain activities occur including muscle repair and memory consolidation. Hormones regulating growth and appetite also are released during sleep. As a result, a good night’s sleep can leave the mind and body rejuvenated for the next day. But if sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete its work and tweens wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, learn new material or participate in school activities. Research also indicates that losing sleep can lower tweens’ immune systems making them more prone to illnesses and health issues. Other consequences include being prone to breakouts, weight gain and moodiness. In fact, a study by the National Sleep Foundation reports that 73 percent of adolescents who report feeling sad, unhappy or depressed also report not getting enough sleep. And because depression can lead to insomnia, a vicious cycle can begin causing even more sleep loss. On average, kids today are getting an hour less of sleep each night compared to kids 30 years ago. This lost hour amounts to nearly one full night’s sleep each week. Many factors in a tween’s life contribute to this lost sleep including:

Furthermore, some research suggests that tweens’ natural sleep cycles put them in conflict with school start times. Studies have shown that their internal clocks begin to change as they get older and they naturally fall asleep closer to 11 p.m. even if they are in bed much earlier. But with an early start time at school, this can lead to sleep deprivation. By contrast, schools with later start times have discovered a number of positive outcomes including reduced tardiness, reduced absenteeism, better grades, reduced weight issues and fewer mood issues. Finally, technology robs young people of sleep more than anything else. They can be connected to friends 24 hours a day with social media, cell phones and the Internet. And they are spending all hours of the night communicating with other people. In fact, one-in-ten kids have been awoken by texts after they have gone to bed. And eighty-four percent of teens sleep with their phones either on the bedside table or even under their pillow so that they can be contacted at any time. The texts they get vary in content. Some texts they receive are frivolous calls and pranks, while others are texts between boyfriends and girlfriends. In fact, nearly a quarter of teens have communicated with a boyfriend or girlfriend hourly between midnight and 5 a.m. according to Teenage Research Unlimited. And one-in-six teens communicated ten or more times per hour throughout the night. “Every ping of an incoming message is a temptation to pick up the phone,” says Dr. Cora Breuner, a pediatrician and mother of a teenage son. “They know talking on the phone might wake up their parents, but if they text, it probably won’t.” Sleep experts recommend turning off all electronics including cell phones before bedtime because the artificial light can increase alertness. The best option is to completely remove the items them from their bedrooms. By doing so, preteens are learning at an early age

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that sleep is a necessity for good health and needs to be made a priority just like eating right and exercising. Following are some other guidelines for helping tweens get more Zs:

  • Help them create a soothing sleeping environment by keeping their room cool, dark and quiet.
  • Suggest they only do relaxing activities in their room prior to bed like reading.
  • Keep their bedroom free of technology including televisions, computers and cell phones.
  • Set an agreed upon time for lights out and try to be consistent even on weekends.
  • Reinforce a soothing bedtime routine like a warm shower or bath, comfy pajamas, quiet reading or soft music.
  • Limit technology and rough play at least 30 minutes before bedtime to allow a winding down period.
  • Eliminate caffeine from their diet, especially after 2 p.m.
  • Review activities and determine if they are interfering with sleep needs.
  • Ensure your tweens are eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise.
  • Teach time-management skills so they aren’t waiting until the last minute to do homework or cramming for tests.
  • Speak with your tween’s doctor about any sleep issues that seem persistent or troublesome. Sleep problems often are easily treated.


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