Summer months can bring a change in routine for many teens and their families. With the pandemic, this shift in schedule has lasted months. Many teens are going to bed later and sleeping later. With no reason to be up in the morning, teens are pushing their wake-up time late into the morning or to the afternoon. As a parent, you may be wondering if your teen should be on a better schedule and how you can help them.
Circadian Rhythm in Adolescence
During the teenage years, sleep-wake cycles shift and teens typically have a later bedtime. This delay in circadian rhythm is normal for teens and parents should anticipate a natural delay during teenage years. The shift in teen’s circadian rhythm is called a sleep phase delay and can sometimes be a few hours. It’s important to realize that this is a normal and developmentally appropriate change for teens. You can help your teen adjust to this change and help them understand how to work with their circadian rhythm shift.
If possible, your teen should go to bed at approximately the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day. The wake-up time is the most important part. One mistake that many teens make is sleeping late on the weekends to try to “catch up” on sleep. Sleeping late in teenage years has become so common that many parents expect this to be the case. But sleeping-in just exacerbates the problem and causes what’s called social jet lag. This occurs when your teen’s wake-up time varies so much that it creates a feeling of jet lag and causes trouble falling asleep.
For teens, their wake-up time doesn’t have to be early, but it should be consistent. Some teens may have fewer responsibilities over the summer, so naturally tend to sleep later. While going to bed later and sleeping later won’t cause a problem, varying wake-up times is an issue. If your teen is going to sleep later, help them choose a wake-up time that can be consistent every day of the week.
It’s also important not to focus on how much sleep your teen is getting. We often make the mistake of fixating on how many hours of sleep are necessary. There is not one set amount that works for each teen. Try instead to work on setting an appropriate wake-up time, no matter what time they have gone to sleep the night before. This may mean less sleep in the short term, but more consistent sleep in the long term.
What Parents Can Do
As a parent, you may be wondering if you should step in. Watching your teen struggle with sleep can be challenging for parents. And you may feel helpless to actually do anything to change your teen’s schedule.
It’s important to talk to them about setting a wake-up time and creating a predictable schedule. Your teen may push back about getting up early, but try to work together to come up with a time that feels doable every day. Help your teen re-think their own schedule. Encourage them to consider how it feels when they wake up at different times and how challenging it can be when they have to adjust to a school year schedule. If they can participate in setting their schedule, your teen will feel empowered and may be more likely to create consistency. Help your teen learn to prioritize sleep. Schedules work best if they come from the teen, themselves.
If You Need More Help
If your teen is struggling with sleep and a schedule doesn’t work, contact us. We can help work with you and your teen to get their sleep back on track.