Education is not a preparation for life but is life itself. - John Dewey

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sleep and Teens

Sleep is not only a biological necessity but also a physiologic drive. In today’s fast-paced world, though, sleep is often the first thing to go. … Adolescence is the time of greatest vulnerability from the standpoint of sleep.
Bill Dement, founder of the Sleep Research Center, Stanford University

I joke that I didn’t sleep more than four hours straight for almost five years when my children were babies.  The truth isn’t far from that.  Most nights during that time I slept six hours a night but almost never uninterrupted.  I relied on micro-naps, carbs, and caffeine for my energy (what there was of it).  It was not the healthiest time in my life!

Now, I cherish – relish – my sleep time and I notice the difference when my sleep needs are not met.  I am less flexible and patient during the day.  I crave unhealthy foods (more than usual) and I make poor choices in how I handle stress and the many demands on my time.

The same is true for children.  A good night’s sleep is essential for children and teens to restore their neurobehavioral systems and to consolidate learning.  There is now evidence that a child’s need for sleep actually increases during puberty, and yet the average high school student reports an average of six hours of sleep on a school night (the MayoClinic recommends nine hours or more).  

A change in an adolescent’s circadian pattern (difficulty falling asleep early and difficulty waking early) signal a normal biological shift.  However, unlike 100 years ago, we now have multiple avenues for stimulation at night (electric lights, television, computers, telephones, texting, etc.) that further delay sleep.  Additionally, some teens (and even some tweens) are allowed to self-select their bedtime at a time when the planning/prioritizing/decision-making part of the brain (the frontal lobe) is quite immature. 

What about sleeping in on the weekends?  Unfortunately, sleeping late on weekends serves to further delay the circadian pattern creating a more dysfunctional cycle during the school week.

Some of the effects of sleep deprivation in adolescents are:  napping during the day, fatigue, stimulant use (caffeine, nicotine), difficulties with self-control (attention, emotion, and behavior) and motivation, missed school, irritability, and poor learning and memory consolidation.  If that weren’t bad enough, napping and stimulant use then contribute to more difficulty falling asleep which exacerbates the already dysfunctional cycle.

So what can parents do?  The following suggestions can be found in much of the literature concerning children and sleep issues.  I particularly like how Madeline Levine addresses the issue in her book “Teach Your Children Well:  Parenting for Authentic Success” in her section titled The Tasks of the Middle School Years.  You can even implement these suggestions with your pre-schooler.  Why wait until middle school to develop good habits?
  • No electronics at least a half hour before bedtime.  This includes television, computer, smartphones, mp3 players, tablets, and video games.  The light from these screens depresses melatonin production and can delay sleep.
  • Keep these electronics out of the bedroom.  A half hour before bedtime, you take ownership over the electronics.  This ensures that your child is not sneaking screen or networking time when she should be sleeping. 
  • No caffeinated drinks in the afternoon or evening.  Obviously, this includes drinks such as 5-Hour Energy.
  •  Have a consistent bedtime and evening ritual.  This can be tough especially with evening practices/lessons and homework.  Even if your pre-bedtime routine is only 20 minutes long (shower, reading, journaling), these external cues can help trigger the relaxation response and make for a smoother transition to sleep.
  • No social networking right before bedtime.  Besides the electronics issue (see above), there is the friendship drama issue.  It is extremely difficult for adolescents to disengage from these ongoing (throughout the night) conversations.  This is not relaxing nor healthy “sleep hygiene.”
  • Beware of overscheduling.  As Madeline Levine states:  “A moderate amount of extracurriculars certainly benefits kids.  But in order to be able to relax, to put the day on hold, kids need some clear space in their heads and clear time in their days.  If the above points on sleep seem daunting to you, the quiet before bedtime, for example, then your child is doing too much.  Leave some time every day for reflection and solitude.  Your child will sleep better and so will you.”
Model these techniques yourself – yes, shut down your electronics a half hour before bedtime as well!  Your children are watching your behavior intently.  Monitor your schedule, your evening routine, and the household activity and noise before bedtime. 

For more information on this subject, check out this Frontline program on adolescent sleep needs and how sleep affects learning and memory.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Some Bumps in the Road

I apologize for my recent lull in posting.  When work and life get busy, I don't always have time to blog.  However, I am recommitting to blogging even if my posts are short!

Today I met with two lower school students who are working on friendship skills.  I introduced the idea that friendships are like riding your bike on a trail - there are often obstacles in your path.  Every trail is going to have bumps and dips but if the obstacles are too big, you can't move forward.  The students described the obstacles that they have experienced and then drew on the board the size of these bumps.

There were some big bumps!  One was so big that the path was completely blocked.  The students talked about how with some friends, there were more bumps than with others.  Some bumps were much bigger with certain friends.  With other friends, it was much easier to just enjoy the ride with few obstacles to have to work around.

Here were the biggest obstacles for these students:

  • Not listening with respect.
  • Laughing AT people not WITH them.
  • Mocking and teasing.
  • Making excuses - not taking responsibility for your own behavior and actions.

We also talked about how, as in the case with these two students, friendships can start off with difficulty but then smooth out after some time and effort.  What makes for a smoother path?  These were their ideas:

  • Talk about your feelings with your friend.
  • Talk to the friend directly if you are having problems (instead of talking to everyone else but NOT your friend).
  • Care about your friend's feelings - no bragging, teasing, or mocking.
  • Take responsibility for your behavior - apologize if necessary and make amends.
  • Listen with respect, understanding, and empathy.

Great advice for us all!