Tag Archives: teens

Tips to Get Your Teen on a Regular—and Healthy—Sleep Schedule

teensleepI hear from many parents that they struggle to get their teens to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Consistent sleep schedules are difficult for teens because there are many environmental factors—including school schedules, homework, extracurricular activities, and jobs—that regularly force teens to adjust their schedule in an unnatural way. The biological clock or circadian rhythm of a teen is actually designed to shift toward a delayed schedule; that is, teens naturally want to go to bed late and wake up late.

We notice this circadian shift starting around puberty, and we think it happens for two main reasons.  First, teens are the strongest, fastest, have the best immune response, tolerate pain and extremes of temperature better than adults, and they are more likely to take risks (like put themselves in harm’s way).  As a result, teens and those in their early twenties (“adolescents” in today’s parlance) are the best suited to protect the cave and clan while others sleep.  So, the adolescents stay up until the wee hours, while the adults sleep.  The oldest among us then awaken early and relieve the young protectors, who can now go to sleep as the dawn is breaking and the threat of predators has considerably lessened.

Second, teens have reached puberty and so are ready, by evolutionary standards, to begin coupling and reproducing.  And so, they need time alone with other teens, without the watchful eyes of parents, to get to know one another, measure up, and decide who belongs with whom; there’s no better time for this than late at night when the parents are asleep.  For these two reasons, teens and young adults typically have a delayed sleep schedule.

While studies show that teens actually benefit from later high school and college start times—and the CDC actually has advised that high schools not start before 8:30AM—fewer than 20% of American schools adhere to this recommendation. If your family is struggling with getting your teenager on a consistent sleep schedule, here are some helpful tips:

Learn about sleep and teach your kids. There are many great books, and the data on getting more sleep is compelling. I teach a college class on sleep at NYU, and I’ve learned that young people really do want to understand their sleep and get better at it. I talk with my own kids about the effects of not getting enough sleep, from the physical to the neuropsychological. Things like immune system functioning, digestion, height, concentration, muscle growth, skin strength, decision-making, memory, anxiety and mood, and so many more factors all improve when you get a good night’s sleep. And on the flip side, illnesses, wrinkles, weight gain, exhaustion, and irritability are all side effects of not getting enough sleep.

Take away screens an hour before bed and limit their use. Screens are distracting and keep us awake. Remember, moms and dads, you own the phone.

Limit sleep-disrupting light exposure. Try eye masks and/or heavy curtains to keep the light out of their eyes while they sleep. Download apps like lux or use ‘nightshift’ on their smartphone so that the blue light that blocks melatonin is removed from their screens. Light is the most influential factor in setting our internal circadian clocks, so we want to control light and make sure that we live in dim light for about 3-4 hours before bed, at the least.

Keep the last few hours before bed calm. Try and do something that’s not stressful before bed, at least for the last 30 minutes. Don’t watch a thriller or action adventure movie before bed—it will jazz your kids up.  Instead, read something relaxing, watch something easy like the food channel, or do something else that eases your mind.

Figure out a schedule that allows for sufficient sleep. As parents, try to help schedule your children’s lives so that they can get sufficient sleep. Make sure homework gets done as early as possible. Make it clear to your kids that while school performance is important, they shouldn’t pressure themselves to stay up all night long to work or study. In fact, we know from lots of data that people remember and learn much better when they’ve slept 8-9 hours than when they sleep less. Students who get more sleep do better in school.

Start going to bed earlier yourself.
Parents are the role models—when we take sleep more seriously, our kids will as well.

hassFrom the Real Experts at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone:

Jess Shatkin, MD, MPH, is a professor in the Departments of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone. He also serves as the Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Child & Adolescent Mental Health Studies (CAMS) at NYU College of Arts & Science. He’s also the author of Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risks, and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe.

The Impact of Technology and Social Media on Kids

little boy at expressive face using a digital tablet in bedChildren’s use of technology and social media has become a modern-day focus for parents. How do you make choices about how much screen time your child/children can have per day and about what programming they can access? How does use of technology impact children?

A general guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics has been that children and teens have no more than one to two hours of screen time per day. For toddlers, the recommendation for many has changed from none to more flexible thinking with interactive media, like Skype and FaceTime. Research on touch-screen apps isn’t clear yet. Limiting screen time is associated with a variety of health benefits, including lower rates of obesity, stronger language skills, and more opportunities to engage socially, face-to-face. Though difficult to implement in the short-term, there are longer-term benefits. Studies have shown that it may be harder for children to attend to satiety cues when they eat while watching TV, so they may eat larger portions. They also may eat less healthy foods while snacking and watching TV, which can also lead to obesity.

Parents often wonder why video games are so interesting, or seemingly “addictive” to their children. Well, they provide immediate feedback to success by distributing reinforcements and punishments. So, children get feedback right away about what they did right, and what they did wrong with the opportunity to try again right away. That can be very stimulating and engaging for many children. Video games also assist in learning at different rates, so children can practice, get better, and then gain mastery at their own pace. Repetition of information and practicing strengthens brain-cell connections, which is thought to underlie memorization and learning.

As a child psychologist, in addition to the time frame guidelines, I encourage parents to structure the use of technology as much as possible. This can mean a number of things. Since most children and teens are highly motivated by use of the iPad, cellphone, or computer, earning screen time can be a highly effective way to help children practice more behaviors their parents want to see—completing homework, chores, or morning and night routines. Since immediate rewards work best in helping children make behavior changes, awarding a child screen time daily or points towards weekend screen time can be motivating.

It can be difficult to manage older children’s and teens use of screen time when they use the computer for homework. Many students find themselves switching between researching for a paper and chatting with friends. There is ample research showing that multitasking actually leads to less effectiveness and efficiency because it reduces the brains opportunity to think deeply about one thing. Children and teens are likely to need help with planning out their homework schedules and building in breaks to surf or chat with peers.

Supervision with screens is critical in building trust that children and teens can be responsible and stay safe. When introducing more opportunities for screen time—like buying children their first phone or iPad—parents have the best results when children build up to earning more time and independence.

Though research on the effects of playing violent video games is mixed, dozens of studies indicate that playing violent games increases aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, in both the short term and the long term. Recent studies show that sensitivity for others can decrease the more violence one engages in through video games. The question of how much children or teens can become sensitized to aggression is a good one—and one parents should really consider.

Another area that parents ask a lot about is socialization and screen time. We know that if children and teens spend too much time with screens, they can lose opportunities for face-to-face social interactions. In these cases, children don’t have as many opportunities to read facial expressions and cues, or to practice responding verbally and immediately in conversation. Skype and FaceTime can actually help here. Good social skills are obviously critical for friendships, relationships, and skills like interviewing for schools and jobs. As with everything, there’s a balance and parents need to decide what is best for their child(ren), and children and teens can build life skills using technology—good decision making, estimating and managing time, rewarding oneself after work is complete, and connecting to the larger world.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiKirsten Cullen Sharma, PsyD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center. She is also the Co-Director of Early Childhood Clinical Service and a Clinical Neuropsychologist at the Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement.

Dr. Cullen Sharma has expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy for children who have co-morbid learning or attention difficulties and emotional or behavioral difficulties, and parent-focused therapy. She emphasizes consistency in use of evidence-based interventions that help children succeed at home and at school.

Dr. Cullen Sharma is a member of the American Psychological Association. She has published in scholarly journals and presented at local, national, and international conferences. She frequently participates in media interviews; these have included The Wall Street Journal, TODAY, NY1, and NY Parenting Magazine.