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Why “sleeping in” on weekends isn’t good for teens

Posted By Dennis Rosen, M.D. On January 11, 2013 @ 9:00 am In Children's Health,Sleep | Comments Disabled

After getting too little sleep Monday through Friday, many teens try to catch up on weekends, sometimes straggling out of bed after noon. While they may feel like they are doing their bodies a favor, they actually aren’t.

A whopping 80% of teens sleep fewer than the recommended nine hours per night, especially during the school week. Staying up late in the evening to finish school work, take part in extracurricular activities, and spend time with friends and family means they often struggle to wake up on time for school. A few days of this can build up a significant sleep deficit.

Sleeping late on Saturday and Sunday may fill that deficit, but it creates a bigger problem. It allows your teen’s inner clock to further drift away from the external clock, worsening the shift begun by delaying bedtime on school nights. The result: the circadian sleep is thrown out of whack, which makes it much more difficult to get up at the usual wake time.

In effect, by sleeping late on Saturday and Sunday, your teen is suffering from the equivalent of a five-hour jet lag when it’s time to get up on Monday morning. The alarm clock may be saying 6:00 am, but his or her inner clock is reading 1:00 am. This will make it much harder for your teen to concentrate and take in anything at school. When this becomes a regular pattern, it can also have a significant effect on mood.

The greater your child’s tendency to shift her or his inner clock, the stricter you should be about enforcing something close to the weekday schedule on weekends. Sleeping in more than an hour beyond the usual wake up time is asking for trouble when Monday comes around again.

Here are some things you can do to help your teen wake up and get out of bed at a reasonable hour on weekends and so avoid resetting his or her inner clock:

  • Explain the importance of keeping to relatively consistent bed times and wake-up times on weekends and weekdays. Your teen may not like it, but will at least understand why you are getting him or her up and out of bed on weekend mornings.
  • Expose your teen to lots of bright light in the morning. Nothing tells the brain it’s time to wake up more than bright light. Turn on all the lights in the bedroom, and open all the shades and curtains. Consider using a timer to turn on bedroom lights, and keep the lights on in the kitchen or breakfast nook.
  • Set an alarm clock (or two, timed a few minutes apart) positioned across the room and out of reach from the bed. Your teen may be much more tempted to roll over and go back to sleep while still under the convers than after she or he has already gotten out of bed.
  • Plan a morning outing with your teen. This might be an early-morning trip to a coffee shop for a hot drink and a pastry, or a yoga class you can do together.
  • Don’t let your teen watch TV for at least the first two hours after waking up. You want him or her to be up and active, not lying down in a darkened family room watching cartoons.
  • Say “no” to napping during the day. Napping will reduce your teen’s sleep deficit and make it very hard to fall asleep at night which, in turn, will make it harder for her or him to wake up the next morning.

To learn more about how you can help your child get a better night’s sleep, check out The Harvard Medical School Guide to Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids. This new ebook has just been published by Harvard Health Publications and Rosetta.

Related Information: Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids


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