When Teens Get Their “Zzz”s

Poor sleep is one of the most common problems teenagers face.

According to “Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep: The All-in-One Resource for Solving Sleep Problems in Kids and Teens” by Judy A. Owens, MD and Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., the amount of sleep adolescents get has steadily decreased since the 1970s, making sleep a common teenage problem.

Dr. Virginia DePaul of North Suburban Pediatrics agrees. She says today’s teens are so overworked that they can’t get to bed on time, and as a result, get sick more often and don’t learn, produce or function as well as they might otherwise.

“It’s not good. These are their growing years. They need extra sleep, not less, especially boys,” she says. “If your child can only find time for five or six hours of sleep at night, something needs to give in their curriculum because they’re doing too much.”

Studies have shown that a sixth grader who misses as little as an hour of sleep will perform at a fourth-grade level the next day. DePaul says it’s up to parents to help their teen limit extra-curricular activities, including watching TV and playing on Facebook.

She says each teen needs a different amount of sleep, and not to judge that amount on nights when they’re catching up.

“Monitor how many hours your child sleeps on a weekend or over the summer,” DePaul says. “Subtract about a half hour from how much they sleep when they are well rested. That’s how much sleep they need on a school night.”

Nili Yelin has wrestled with sleep issues since she was a teenager, so she can relate to those of her 15-year-old daughter. Even so, this Wilmette mom is not going to make a big deal out of it.

“I’m not dismissive, but I don’t overcompensate,” Yelin says. “If I focus on forcing it, it magnifies the problem and blows it up into a huge issue.”

Yelin says her daughter never slept well and took hours to fall asleep as a baby. As a busy teen, she is a natural night owl who starts her day at 6:30 a.m. Yelin has seen her child exhausted and has let her miss school to catch up on some zzz’s.

“I think that’s as legitimate as any medical condition,” Yelin says. “Not getting enough sleep can be crippling. You don’t have a clear perspective. You physically suffer, and it makes you emotional and vulnerable. As a teen, you already have enough of that going on.”

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