This summer I am exploring some of the effects that the adolescent brain has on adolescent behaviour, and today I wanted to look at what happens when melatonin release is delayed. Melatonin is also known as “the darkness hormone” and it help all people fall asleep. In adults, it is released at about 10 pm, but in teenagers it is released three hours later! (1)
This three hour delay means that your teenager is liable to have a hard time falling asleep, and an even harder time waking up. Teens need 8-10 hours sleep, and without it their ability to process information decreases and they respond more sensitively to stress. There’s also an increased risk for depression and anxiety. (2) There has been a recent push to delay the hour at which school starts to help teens get the sleep they need. In Minneaopolis, several schools changed their start time, and not only did grades improve, but drop out rates decreased. (3)
For those of you with teens still attending a school with an early bell, here are some things that you can do, so that they will be well rested and ready for their day.
Don’t take on the burden of waking up your teens. Let them be responsible for getting themselves out of bed, and suffer the consequences if they do not. Teens who are given this responsibility are more likely to develop a sleep schedule that is sufficient for them.
Teach your teenagers about melatonin and its effects on their bodies. Learning about their biology is part of the process of learning to care for themselves.
Don’t get annoyed with your teenagers if they sleep until noon. If they do so, their bodies are probably in need of the rest.
Provide places for your teenagers to study: a desk and chair are best. Doing homework in bed can train you to associate work and thought with a place of rest, which means that when it is time for sleep, your mind won’t shut down properly.
Encourage your teenagers to limit “screentime” in the two hours before bed. The blue light emitted by cell phones, computers and tvs can disrupt the body’s clock. (4)