General Health & Wellness • Jul 30, 2015

Tired teens? Wake up to these tips!

“Well, it’s summer so why can’t I stay up as late as I want?  I went to bed last night at 4:00 AM.  What’s the big deal?” I often here this during the late summer months as school approaches.

Well, the big deal is that anyone who does that is disrupting their sleep patterns and setting themselves up for lethargy, fatigue, poor mood, poor emotional control, and poor cognitive performance, including academic and athletic performance.  Young people who do this are creating a situation in which they will not be able to sleep during the night time hours and will be lethargic and fatigued during daylight hours.  This creates a great deal of difficulty for teenagers who have to attend school.  Chronic fatigue and lethargy leads to poor classroom performance, inhibited learning, and interpersonal and social difficulties.  This is because the tired person cannot participate very well, often misses significant parts of classroom and social discussions, and is typically emotionally fragile and volatile.  The solution, of course, is to sleep regularly.  This means a regular bedtime, a regular wake-up time, and a period of 9 to 10 hours in between.  In addition, a number of guidelines are helpful:

  1. Create a quiet and comfortable sleeping environment.  Light should be minimized with the possible exception of a nightlight.  Sounds should be minimized with the possible exception of a radio playing softly or a fan blowing softly.  Televisions, computers, video games, and cell phone screens all emit flickering, flashing light which stimulates the retina, optic nerves, and deep brain structures related to the sleep -wake cycle.  This is very disruptive to the nervous system.  Ideally, there should be no screens in the bedroom.  If there are screens in the bedroom, they should be turned off before bedtime and stay off throughout the night.
  2. The bed should be used only for sleep.  Do not do homework in bed, make telephone calls, watch TV or play video games, eat, or anything else in bed.  The bed is only for sleep.
  3. Establish bedtimes and wake-up times and stick to them.  Try to stay up until bedtime.  Make yourself get up at wake-up time.  Avoid naps throughout the day no matter how tired you may be. If you are not tired at bedtime, lay down quietly, breathe deeply, and relax.  Many people will fall asleep if they do this.  If after an hour you are not asleep, get up and read or do some other non-screen activity for 30 minutes or so and then attempt to go to sleep again.  Repeat this as often as necessary.
  4. Get plenty of exercise during the day.  This is not only good for your body and brain, but will also expend energy and help the person to feel tired at bedtime.
  5. Stop all screen based activities approximately one hour prior to bedtime.  This will allow the nervous system time to calm down and return to a more normal state.  When people are playing video games, for example, there is a great deal of CNS arousal that takes place and it does not shut down when you turn off the machine.  The nervous system needs some time to return to its normal state.  In addition, back lit screens stimulate the optic nerves and deeper structures of the brain which tricks the brain into thinking its morning and it is time to be awakened.  No wonder people can’t sleep when they’re staring at screens and playing video games and doing social media!