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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits 7 Tips from Teens: How Parents Can Talk with Their Teens About the Importance of Sleep If your teen scored poorly on one or more of the sleep-related tests in the previous chapter, or she complains constantly of exhaustion or headaches or any of the other sleep deprivation symptoms, it’s time to start doing something about the potentially damaging condition. You may already have tried to establish better sleep and wake times for your teen, or taken other steps to improve her sleep habits, but I’m not telling you anything new when I say that it’s not always easy to get teens to listen to—and follow—an adult’s advice. But teens do listen to their friends. And knowing that, I enlisted my 17-year-old daughter Elyssa to tell you about some of the ways she believes parents can get the sleep message across to their teens without getting into a huge battle. The idea is that if you know what has helped Elyssa hear the message about sleep and do things that give her more and better rest, you may be able to talk to your own teen in a similar way and, I hope, have the same positive result. Elyssa is going to tell you about how she’s dealt with the problem of sleep, what I’ve done wrong in trying to help her get the sleep she needs (I fear there’ll be a lot of that), and how you can encourage your teen to own her sleep-wake schedule. You’ll also hear in this chapter from other teens who have words of wisdom for us poor, struggling parents. Elyssa’s thoughts will be
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits detailed in a question-and-answer format and the other teens’ insights will be featured in boxes. Elyssa: Let me start out by saying that I am by no means the perfect poster child for adolescent sleep. At times I have pulled all-nighters, slept past noon, and stayed up all night talking to friends or watching TV. However, from my 17 years of sleep experience, I have discovered that to perform at my top level academically and physically, I have to get an adequate amount of sleep. Since I know how little sleep teens get—even fewer hours than their parents think, if you count the last-minute review of note cards, the magazine reading, and the secret trips to the computer in the middle of the night—I want to share my experience and knowledge to help you help my peers feel better and perhaps ease your minds in the process. Q: What’s the sleep-wake schedule you follow most of the time and do the hours you sleep keep you feeling good and doing well all day? A: During the school year I go to sleep between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. Sometimes I’ll go to sleep earlier if I’ve had a long day of school plus tennis practice or a match (I play singles on my high school team) and if I don’t have that much homework. But sometimes I’ll go to sleep later if I have a lot of work to do that night. I wake up around 7:00 and leave the house around 7:40. On weekends and during the summer I usually go to sleep around 12:30 or sometimes 1:00, and wake up somewhere between 9:30 and 10:30. By keeping to this schedule I get the same number of hours on the weekends that I get during the week and alter my sleep-wake time by only about two hours—which my mom says keeps you from getting a phase delay further out of whack. Of course, there are days when I go to bed later or earlier; it all depends on what’s happening the next day. Tennis lesson at 8:30 in the morning? I am in bed by 11:30 at the latest. I try to get somewhere around eight hours if I can, and I think that’s the key. I know that some schools start earlier than mine, and some students have to wake up around the ungodly hour of 6:00 or 6:15, but that doesn’t mean they have to go to sleep at 8:00 or 9:00. I think that as long as you are in
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits bed, not signing off from Instant Messaging or brushing your teeth or anything, by 10:00, you should be fine to wake up at 6:00. Do I feel great all day long? My goal is to wake up every morning and feel good and not be yawning all day. During the school year I almost never wake up feeling refreshed because it is just too early, but I do go through the day not feeling sleepy, so I’m happy with that. If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m exhausted and unhappy. Q: How did you figure out how much sleep you needed? Did your parents make it a rule that you had to get at least eight hours, or did you set up your own schedule? A: Everyone has different sleep needs; some kids need more and some kids need less than others. I need more than some of my friends because I’m more active than they are. It all depends on who you are and what you do. But for a lot of teens it’s just fun to stay up at night. But my revelation about how much sleep I need wasn’t forced on me by my mother—though I will say that all the years of getting the same speech from her every night about sleep somehow imprinted in my brain, so I guess that was part of it. But basically after a while I just realized on my own that around eight hours of sleep was what was healthy for me and necessary for my body. Some of it I learned the hard way. Once I played in a tennis match that was hours away, meaning I had to get up at 6:00 a.m. to get there on time, which basically sucked. I thought I’d be fine if I got somewhere around six or seven hours of sleep—I thought a first-round match shouldn’t take that much energy, plus I had gotten a whole lot of sleep for a couple of nights before. I was wrong, completely wrong. I ended up playing in a three-set match, and each match took about Another Teen Says … “A bunch of my friends think it’s very romantic to stay up late. But I would tell other teens not to romanticize or dramatize the night. It’s quiet and you can read and think, but then you pay for it the next day.”
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits three hours to finish instead of the usual one hour. I was exhausted after the first match and slept for four hours before the next match— which I lost because I couldn’t move. Another time I was studying the night before a big history test, cramming like crazy. I had spent the last couple of days procrastinating, and I had convinced myself that I already knew most of it, that there wasn’t that much left to cover. I sat down at my computer around 5:00 to write some study guides and within minutes I was in a panic— I freaked out because I realized there was so much information to cover. I stayed at my computer until 12:30 easy, until I finally finished a 12-page review. But that was just the typing part—then I actually had to memorize the information. I sat on my bed with highlighters and open textbooks surrounding me, along with three cups of hot cocoa, until I finally gave up, exhausted and defeated, around 2:00 a.m. I decided I would wake up around 6:30 to review everything I had highlighted. The next morning when I woke up I felt very unrefreshed, and I was horrified to realize that I had retained almost no information and that my test was in a matter of hours. Again panic set in. When I finally got to my classroom and my teacher started handing out the test, my eyelids drooped, my mind wandered, and that terrible feeling crept in that I didn’t remember anything that I had spent the night and early morning cramming into my brain. It was not my best test, and I spent the rest of the day exhausted and feeling bad. Why did I do this to myself? Now I know that I need to get more sleep if I’m going to play tennis at all well and do at all well at school. Q: Were there any incentives that helped you to get more sleep, in addition to coming to the realization that you did better and felt better when you had enough rest? A: I hate to admit it, but the arguments I had with my parents, plus my exhaustion, helped motivate me to get more sleep and take care of my body. So did waking up at 1:30 in the afternoon with 10 text messages
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits Another Teen Says … “When I was younger, my parents would take away my e-mail privileges the day after I stayed up really late IMing and didn’t get enough sleep. They had the password for my account, and they had to sign me on for me to use it. That didn’t always make me go to sleep earlier, but if I wanted to IM with my friends in the evenings I had to keep it in mind.” waiting from friends who wanted to do something with me that day that I missed out on because I slept away half the day. But one big incentive really pushed me. At the beginning of last summer my mom and I had an argument about my sleep. School had just gotten out and I hadn’t discovered a sleep pattern yet that fit me for the summer. After numerous “discussions,” my mom decided that I had to have at least seven hours of sleep or I couldn’t drive the car. Yeah. That made me figure out a way, really quickly, to accommodate her worries and my needs. I took the responsibility and ran with it. There was no way I was going to let car privileges be taken away if I could do something about it. Q: What was the sleep-wake routine you used to follow that wasn’t so successful for you? A: Before I hit puberty, I went to sleep around 10 and got up for school around 7. On the weekends I could sleep till 8:30, but never any later, even though all my friends didn’t wake up until around 11:00. But one summer I started sleeping later and later, and finally I was sleeping routinely until 10:30. That seemed great, but the problem was that I never wanted to go to sleep at night. When school started again, I still couldn’t get to sleep, but I had to wake up early. Things didn’t work out so well and I knew I had to get more sleep. Pretty quickly I got tired of being tired. My mom also nagged me to death, kept turning off the TV, and followed me to my room.
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits Q: Did you have specific goals in mind when you decided you needed to get more sleep? Or did you just not want to feel tired anymore? Do you recommend that teens work toward a sleep goal? A: I didn’t have any goals. In fact, I never really thought about creating a sleep schedule. But after a while I began to listen to my body and figured out what worked; I got into a pattern. My advice to parents of teens is to encourage their kids to get into some kind of routine that makes them feel healthy and happy. They should try different sleep and wake times and see what works for them, then get into a pattern and stick with it. Of course, sometimes there are going to be long nights of studying or hanging out with friends, and kids should have those— they just shouldn’t make them a habit. Q: Are your parents happy with the sleep schedule you follow most of the time? Or do they bug you to get still more sleep? A: I’m sure that every parent wants his or her children to get more sleep. But there are only 24 hours in a day, so if your kid is getting at least eight hours of sleep, there should be no reason to nag. I hated it when my mom tried to cram bed and wake times down my throat, and I’m not sure she’s mastered how to handle the situation yet. But she’s learning not to force it unless it’s an emergency, like I’m completely overstressed or I’m stuck in front of the TV at midnight. We want to make our parents happy, but it’s not just about appeasing them. Two Teens Agree … “My parents have always let me be pretty independent, so they’ve never imposed any time when I have to be up or go to bed. To tell the truth, sometimes I end up waking my mother when she oversleeps. My big problem is when I’m not tired but I know I need to sleep. Then it can take me forever to get to sleep no matter what I do.” “My parents do try to get me to go to bed at a decent hour. The problem is they can’t make me sleep.”
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits Another Teen Says … “My parents have helped me by forcing me out of bed in the morning, but they really have helped me by respecting my need for a peaceful environment at night by keeping yelling and anxiety to a minimum.” Q: How could your parents do a better job of helping you get enough rest? What can parents of teens in general do to argue less with their kids about sleep? A: Well, here my mom would say that parents should read this book for good ideas, especially the ones in Chapter 8. But I can tell you a few things that my parents did that I really didn’t like, and recommend that you don’t do them with your kids. I cannot tell you how many arguments my mom and I have had over my sleep. The worst thing she did that provoked an argument was to come into my room at around 10:00, when I was completely involved in my homework, and say, “Go to sleep in 15 minutes.” I hated that. I still had things to do, maybe 30 more minutes of work, so of course that led to an argument. I think communication is key when you want to solve a sleep issue. The best way to handle this situation if it comes up with your teen is to ask questions like, “How much more work do you have left?” This open-ended question will allow your student to make up an appropriate schedule that suits her needs. When I got my mom to ask me that, I’d tell her I had 20 more pages of reading and that I would go to sleep in 45 minutes. Easy. No arguments. My recommendation is to try not to force your kid to go to sleep unless it’s an emergency, like he or she is burning the midnight oil to finish the next day’s assignments or is glued to the TV really late. This could call for drastic measures: removing the pencil from the academically crazed over-worker or shutting off the TV and having a brief “discussion” that consists of “Go to sleep now.” Otherwise, talk to your teen. Ask questions. Don’t make too many demands. Try to un-
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits Another Teen Says … “I get really offended when my parents try to find something to blame things on, like I didn’t get enough sleep because my friend called me at 11:30. Parents always want to pin blame on something specific, but this drives teens batty. Why do parents have to find something to blame? Things are what they are.” derstand where your kid is coming from so you can see her point of view. Above all don’t lecture or threaten. I personally hate being lectured about my sleep, though with a sleep doctor for a mom this is unavoidable. I do respect what she says, though, because she is a sleep doctor. Q: Do you feel that kids should take on the entire responsibility of getting the rest they need and deal with the consequences if they don’t get enough rest? Or should they try to work out a sleep program on which both they and their parents can agree? A: Teenagers need to take on some of the responsibility for their sleep schedule. We aren’t 10 anymore, and we don’t want our mom or dad to tell us to go to bed. But to our dismay we are not adults yet! So this complicated matter should not fall solely on our shoulders; unfortunately, we need help. We need those helpful reminders that, yes, are the bane of our existence. If we took on the entire responsibility with no guidelines, we would most likely run down our bodies in a matter of days. However, experimenting with sleep teaches us the importance of sleep and our body’s needs. I couldn’t see, and sometimes still can’t see, my mother’s point of view if I don’t experience exhaustion and the symptoms of sleep deprivation. So maybe teenagers need to learn to deal with the consequences of being exhausted, such as irritability and edginess. The consequences, although drastic, motivate teens to maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits One thing I love about my schedule is that I created it. The downfall of my creation is that when I don’t get enough sleep it’s my fault, not my parents’. If I’m tired, I have no one to blame but myself. So compromising works. Find a certain number of hours of sleep on which you both can agree and then give your kids guidelines and the responsibility for following them. If they do a good job, then great, let them keep on doing it. If they have problems, then yes, it’s necessary to intervene. Q: Do you have any other words of advice for parents about helping their kids get enough sleep? A: There are a lot of things listed in Chapter 8 that parents can do to help their kids get more sleep. But here are some things that worked for me that parents might want to talk about with their own kids to see if they’ll work for their family: Another Teen Says … “Self-discipline is very important in getting enough sleep. Lack of discipline has made my sleep problems worse.” Like most teens, I have a lot going on in my life, and some of it is hard for my parents to understand. When I lie down at night and try to fall asleep, I have a million thoughts running around in my head: I have a math test the next day, I have to get notes from the history class I missed, I’m going out with some friends on the weekend, is this guy having a party, etc., etc. My secret to clearing my mind is writing down all of my thoughts. I find a scrap piece of paper by the nightstand and get everything out of my mind so I can stop thinking about it. You don’t have to write in full sentences—you can just write “party,” “notes,” “tennis,” anything that helps you. If you encourage your kids to write down their worries, their fears, their excitement, their grief, it will help, I promise.
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits I got into a routine. At 10:45 I sign off from IMing or hang up the phone, at 11:00 I brush my teeth, at 11:05 I lay out my clothes, at 11:10 I read for 20 minutes, at 11:30 I’m in bed. Of course, this changes a bit sometimes, but it’s a pretty usual pattern during the school week. Teens should set up whatever works for them, whatever will help them get good sleep time. The most important part is to enforce the routine every day until it becomes almost automatic. I get a lot of exercise, but I try not to exercise within an hour of going to bed. At night I try to do some things that will take my mind off school and other stressors. Your student could call a friend, talk online, watch TV, read a book, drink some herb tea—anything to relax the body and the mind.
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