With the school year set to begin in just two weeks, it's a good time to get started on transitioning sleep cycles a little earlier. FOX 9 News spoke with Dr. Conrad Iber, of Fairview Sleep Centers, for some tips.
Q: What does the research show about sleep? Let's start with those teenagers.
A: Well, they're the most vulnerable. There's a biological change that occurs in the early teenage years that results in a change in the normal schedule from a later awakening time to a later bed time. There's also a huge change that I'm sure you're all aware of -- any parent is, and that's the switch between the summer months and the beginning of school. When kids have been sleeping in, sometimes 8, 9, 10 o'clock, and suddenly have to get up at 6 or 7 o'clock for school.
Q: Does increased teen sleep time really help? How do you tell a teen, 'Hey, you got to go to bed. It's bedtime"?
A: Not an easy thing to do in terms of the bedtime habits. Setting a regular bedtime schedule, kind of a wind-down time, turning off electronic equipment, having sort of a curfew on bright lights, electronic equipment -- maybe 10 o'clock, depending upon what's their natural sleep time -- and then early-morning awakening at this time before school starts, starting that process 15, 20 minutes a day -- waking up a little earlier -- will help make that transition to the first day of school a bit easier.
Q: Is there scientific evidence that says "if a teenager doesn't get this much sleep, this happens" or "if a grade-schooler doesn't, this happens"?
A: There's actually quite a bit of evidence, especially in teenagers, that school performance is worse if they don't get enough sleep. So, if kids really want something to point at in terms of improvement, that's probably the most substantial although it may be kind of hard to see right away. A study done in kids who crammed the night before an exam and stayed up late showed that they actually did worse. So, it's better to parse things out, plan a little bit better.
Another important concept is once you've not been getting adequate sleep, it takes more than a night or two, so even a weekend may not be enough. As a result, it's better to have regular sleep habits and a regular sleep routine all the way through the week as much as possible.
Q: Should we as parents resist the urge, as we often do, to nag our teenaged kids about sleeping so late?
A: I think, rather, you should pay attention to the fact that if they're sleeping in on the weekends, they're trying to catch up with what we call their "sleep debt." It's an indication of not getting enough sleep.
Now, it is true some kids will have sleep disorders. One of the disorders is a substantial delay in what's called "sleep phase," which may require an intervention. So, if the problem doesn't get better with a regular sleep time and a longer sleep period, then we also need to probably get some help at that point to make sure there isn't something else going on.