Even when we go to bed at a reasonable hour, we can’t fall asleep. And once we fall asleep, we can’t stay asleep. And our teens? They’re often up until all hours and then sleep away the day. We talked with Candace Alfano, clinical psychologist and Director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston, about why it’s so challenging these days and how we can help ourselves and our teens get the rest we need.
Why is it Hard to Sleep?
Sleep is often the first biological system to malfunction when we’re stressed. This is partly because of hormonal and biological change, but also because of the thoughts and the worries that become more prevalent during times of stress – all of the “what ifs” that often times creep in at night. Right now the loss of routine is also making it hard to sleep. Regularity is something that’s gone out the window by most families.
Why is it Important to have a Sleep Schedule?
Creating routines is critical for everything we do in particular our sleep. Having a sleep schedule provides certain cues for feeling sleepy and for waking up. Because it is summer, it may be tempting to sleep in or stay up late, but our sleep is regulated by an internal clock. That clock functions best when we set it to the same time every day.
Practical Advice for Improving our Sleep
One thing that everyone can do, whether you’re a teen or an adult, is try as much as possible is to go to bed and to get up at the same time every day.
If you find yourself lying awake in bed at night, the worst thing you could do is just lie there and try to force it. That often causes a negative association between your bed and sleep. Instead, get out of bed and sit under dim lighting and do something that is relatively boring.
Reading a book becomes a very potent sleep queue for some people, which means reading a book signals the body that it is time to go to bed – unless you’re the type of person who will read in bed for hours.
Avoid electronics before bed. Screens emit a blue light that is associated with elevating our mood and making us feel more awake. There are programs that can be downloaded to reduce the amount of blue light coming through the screen.
Get out of bed as soon as your eyes open in the morning.
How Do We Persuade Teens that Sleep is Important?
If you want to sell teens on sleep, you really have to speak their language. It doesn’t necessarily help when you tell them they will feel better tomorrow if they get a good night’s sleep. For example, their appearance is very important to teens and there is research to show that when we get inadequate amounts of sleep, we are more likely to have acne.
Another angle you could take is that sleep helps us remember and learn, which isn’t just important in academics. It is important while you’re functioning in society to remember names and interactions you have with people. Getting enough sleep is important for teenagers who are behind the wheel. There is research that shows that someone who has been awake for 19 hours, their reaction time is equivalent to somebody who has a legal level of intoxication.