5 Strategies to Help Our Sleep-Deprived Adolescents Get More Zzzs

Available for Interviews: Dr. Pete Loper

Dr. Pete Loper, MD, MSEd, FAAP, is a triple board-certified physician in pediatrics, psychiatry, and child psychiatry. He is also a professor and executive coach and is dedicated to mental health and wellness advocacy.

What Dr. Loper could say on
Adolescents and Sleep
:

Between changing hormones, changing bodies, and navigating the pitfalls of burgeoning independence, adolescence is a very challenging time. Throw in socially prescribed perfectionism and the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic, being a teenager is more challenging than ever. Resilience, or our teenagers’ capacity to process their distress, move forward, and develop, is contingent upon meaningful interpersonal interactions embedded in the context of a community. This is where getting enough quality sleep comes in.

However, as our children enter puberty, their natural sleep cycle experiences a “phase delay.” The release of neurohormones required to initiate sleep is delayed by up to 2 hours!  This means that instead of falling asleep at around 9 o’clock as they did in elementary school, our teenagers in high school may not be able to fall asleep until around 11 pm.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that adolescents get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a day.  Unfortunately, despite recommendations from the AAP that high schools shift their start times to later in the morning to accommodate their students’ natural sleep cycle, many schools still require their teenagers to arrive just as early as always. 

While we may not be able to control the start times for our adolescents’ schools, we certainly can support them in getting the right amount of sleep.  Here are 5 strategies to support those aims:

    1. Make a bedtime routine…and stick with it (Epsom salt baths, deep breathing exercises, stimulate abdominal viscera).
    2. Try to avoid overscheduling activities that spill over into the evening.
    3. Turn off all screens at least one hour prior to scheduled bedtime. (If you can’t turn it off, an alternative is to block it by purchasing blue blocker glasses.)
    4. Create a healthy sleep environment (a sleep sanctuary: no electronic devices or screens, darkness, and a temperature between 65º and 68º F)
    5. Let them “catch up” (We used to worry about “sleep debt,” or the cumulative effects of lost sleep that you could never get back. Turns out that this is wrong. Newer research demonstrates that you can make up your “sleep debt” by sleeping extra on the weekends, holidays, or days off.) 

Recognizing that healthy human development begins and ends with social interactions, in the absence of sufficient sleep, our already hormone-ladened and temperamental adolescents may become even further compromised in their ability to engage with their family, peers, and teachers.  Put simply, when our teenagers aren’t getting enough sleep, their development may suffer. Following the above tips will enable adolescents to get the sleep they need and be happier and emotionally healthier.

 

Interview: Dr. Pete Loper

Dr. Pete Loper began his undergraduate studies in English at Kenyon College prior to completing his premedical coursework and Bachelor of Arts at the University of South Carolina (U of SC).  He earned his Doctor of Medicine from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, and his Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.  Following medical school, Dr. Loper completed a residency in pediatrics. He then worked as a pediatrician in a private practice setting while completing a second residency in psychiatry and a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry.  He has also completed the American Psychoanalytic Association’s Psychoanalytic Fellowship Program and the Teleos Leadership Institute’s Coach Development Program.

Dr. Loper has been featured in numerous academic publications and media outlets and it is through these channels that he can dedicate his time to be an advocate for mental health and wellness.

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