by Donna Nahlik, Prevention Specialist II, Chestnut Health Systems
Some of them look kind of dazed. Some walk slightly bent at the waist as if the weight of the world could topple them over at any moment. Some are unusually cranky and never seem to catch up on sleep.
Who am I talking about?
World leaders, perhaps? Doctors? Wall Street executives?
Not even close.
I am talking about our teens. OK…so some of those descriptions are slight exaggerations…but not by much. More and more teens are reporting feeling stressed and worn out, and it is something we as parents need to take a look at.
If our teens do look dazed, it is probably due to their crazy school and work loads. The “bent at the waist thing”…hello…have you lifted a high-schooler’s back pack lately? Many of them are crammed so full of books and supplies that the poor teen could not stand fully upright if they tried. The crankiness? It’s because they are not getting nearly enough sleep.
I have heard countless stories in the past few months about teens who are averaging just four or so hours of sleep a night. When asked about it, the answers are pretty much the same:
“I have all honors classes and I have to do well so I can get into a good college”.
“Money is tight at our house, and I have to work extra hours to help pay for college”.
“Between school, homework, a job, and all my clubs…who has time to sleep? I can sleep when I’m old”.
Do not get me wrong, these are all honorable activities backed by great intentions. Some teens are able to successfully handle all of their obligations and are doing great, but…
Some teens are not managing quite as well, and could actually be putting their health at risk. According to “Ten Things to Hate About Sleep Loss” (www.webmd.com), a variety of health and safety issues can be traced back to chronic sleepiness. Some of those issues include:
• Increased accidents;
• Negative effects on attentiveness, learning, and memory;
• Increased risk of heart disease or attack, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and diabetes, among others;
• Increased risk of depression;
• Increased weight gain;
• Impaired judgment.
You can see how this could turn into a huge cycle, right? Your teen stays up late every night studying but the later they stay up every night and the more sleep-deprived they become, the worse their grades get. This happens because their brains never get a chance to process and store everything they learned during the day. Our bodies need sleep to re-charge…it is just that simple.
I am not saying that our teens need to cut out honors classes and quit their jobs…of course not. I am just saying that we need to monitor their schedules and watch to make sure that they are not getting worn down. Here are some things to watch for:
• Consistently falling asleep at random times of the day;
• Confused demeanor…”just not tracking well”;
• Crankiness…more than normal teenage crankiness, by the way;
• Increased caffeine intake…artificial energy;
• Clumsiness or accident-prone;
• Changes in eating patterns.
If you see some of those things happening with your teen, it might be time to have a discussion about how to manage their schedule so that they can get more sleep.
Here’s the kicker, though. Our teens are learning this “cram it all into one day and see how much we can get done” mentality from somewhere. Is it us? Are we doing the same thing to ourselves?
Think about it. How many people do we know who seem to see it at a “badge of honor” to skate by on a few hours of sleep every night themselves? Maybe we need to look at our own schedules too.
Maybe it is time to for all of us to just chill out and take a nap.