No, I Didn't Forget You!

I have to apologize for my absence lately. I know, I know. You were hanging on the edge of your seat after that cliffhanger ending in my last blog, right? Yup. I knew it.

Without further delay...
The Proper Care and Feeding of you Teen- Part II
Question: What one single thing may be to blame for teen attitude, obesity, ADHD and a host of other medical issues we see in teens?

Answer: Sleep loss.

Recently I was reading the book "Nurture Shock" by Bronson and Merryman. It has to be one of the best books I've read in a long time. Think: "Freakonomics" about kids. I thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to frequently refer to it. So get ready! But I digress.

In the book, the authors touch on the obesity epidemic among children, which seems to be spiraling out of control. They point out that many of the common scapegoats (tv watching, high fructose corn syrup, processed foods) don't hold up statistically. But what has gotten the attention of leading experts most recently: sleep loss. The truth is, kids and teens today get a great deal less sleep than their peers would have just 10 years ago. In fact, there is a direct correlation between sleep deficit and obesity.

And sleep loss doesn't just correlate with biological functions (such as metabolism and fat burning) The authors cite fascinating studies in which children are put to bed just one hour later for three days... which caused a loss of two grade levels on their academic testing! In the book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child", Weissbluth (a pediatric sleep specialist) correlates poor sleep in early childhood with poor adolescent sleep, ADHD, grades and even seizure disorders.

Most scary of all is the information on teens a sleep deprivation. Adolescents have a biological shift in their circadian rhythms. What does this mean? It means that the naturally occurring "sleepy" time we all feel as adults and small children- actually shifts 90 minutes later in an adolescent brain! Meaning that when a teen is forced to rise early (for school) they will not be able to make up for that sleep at night. In their study, 60% of Freshman got 8 hours of sleep. By Sophomore year? Just 30%.

Why does this matter? Because when teens walk around chronically sleep deprived, they actually double their rates of depression. Ask yourself this: "if you are sleep deprived for a week, how do you behave?" Moody? Irritable? Irrational? Distracted? Forgetful?  Now ask yourself: "what qualities in my teen drive me the most crazy?"..... BINGO! Which brings me to the earth-shattering information:

Much of what we consider "normal adolescent moodiness" is now being reexamined. It might actually be the consequences of long term sleep deprivation.

Because of this (and other) research, school districts across the country are considering a late start time. And the ones that implement it have had amazing results!

Our culture has pushed kids to accelerate. After school activities, AP classes, early college courses etc.... By itself, that's not a bad thing. However, when achievement is prided but sleep is not- what are the real long-term effects? Are they worth it? At a time when an estimated 20% of college students are on anti-depressants, ADHD diagnoses are on the rise, and obesity is declared epidemic; perhaps it is time we started touting the benefits of a free, natural remedy: sleep.

Wishing you a restful evening,

Krysta Dancy


  1. So, what's the solution here? I think this is true and try to get my teenage daughters to go to sleep earlier, but that never seems to work. They just aren't tired until later (10-11pm)...but, then they have to wake up early and we're in that cycle of fatigue again. It's maddening. Their schools start earlier and earlier the older they get. This is a big problem.

  2. Pam- I completely agree, it is maddening. Many parent groups are taking notice and petitioning the school boards to make changes on this front. The results are astounding! Improved standardized test scores, decreased rates of teen depression and suicide, and even decreased teen traffic fatalities! All of this happened practically overnight! (You can read the book NurtureShock for more details)

    In the short term though, I think parents must begin to educate their teens about the importance of their own sleep. There are many ways to improve the quality of sleep (many of them natural and easy) but with a teen, their buy-in is important. "Bedtime" hardly flies with a 16-year-old!

    So perhaps it can start with bribery, or a lighthearted "experiment" of one week with them going to bed an hour earlier than usual. If statistics hold true, that one hour will improve their brain after just 3 days.

    Another (less popular) option is to limit weekend sleeping in. Yes, it might be a good feeling on the weekend, but it re-creates the issue when Sunday night rolls around and they're not tired at a decent time.

    These are only small steps for now, I really believe there needs to be a systemic change. Clearly our teens are not doing well! But parents can't afford to wait on the administration to "get it" when their own teens are suffering.


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