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Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD
Feb 18, 2018
Morning after morning I try to rouse my teen for his early morning class; I’ve used blaring alarms, sweet reminders, tearing off blankets and even spray bottles that spritz water. Slumber continues despite my earnest attempts. Then the “ding” of a new message or sports alert arrives on his phone and he’s up!
Social media connections have power, not all of which are bad. But social media has the power to interrupt a good night’s rest requiring us to discipline ourselves in getting to bed and turning it off for the night.
Here are five things to consider when thinking about intervening with your teens (and for yourselves) regarding how social media impacts sleep:
Sleep researchers don’t have to tell parents that the adolescent brain is a little different! Moodiness, puberty, monosyllabic utterances and strange sleep patterns take over that cute little one once known as their child.
It is common to see teenagers with schedules that demand an early morning for school and a late night with homework or extra-curricular activities. What complicates this further is that the adolescent brain requires more sleep but at different times than a typical schedule allows. Teens are tired during the day, more awake as the rest of us are heading to bed and almost impossible to rouse in the morning.
Although we may be unsuccessful at getting them to fall asleep earlier during this stage of development, we can be more mindful of some of the typical social interruptions that make falling (and staying) asleep more difficult.
Almost half of teens admit to sleeping with their smart phone, says a recent study. And these smart phones are not always silent; some students report checking their messages 10 times during the night.
In addition to texting about homework, others admit to watching movies, or fall asleep to music. Also concerning is the amount of online bullying that occurs in the wee hours of the night. Such interruptions shorten the amount of sleep a teen gets and robs them of good deep sleep. Moodiness and those monosyllabic utterances increase with fatigue!
Although your teen will resist this, insist that phones, internet, social media and music are turned off at an agreeable time and at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Find a neutral space in your home for overnight device charging. Discuss the difficulties of interrupted sleep and how it impacts their favorite activities.
Assuming they are not agreeable to your suggestion, try running an experiment in your household to see how everyone does without being tied to their devices overnight. In the meantime, consider putting a “do not disturb” on your phone, place it in airplane mode, put it in another room, turn it off, and communicate with your friends that you are unable to return texts for the rest of the evening.
Kids are not very good at setting limits or boundaries. Their prefrontal lobe, still developing within their brain, has a lot to do with their inability to have impulse control or reason. This is why they text their friends at 2 AM and this why their friends respond.
Help your kids do the same with their devices as it will help their sleep. Even though their developing circadian rhythm is a bit out of their hands, they can do something to balance their internal body clock. This is where an evening bedtime routine and eliminating late night use of devices is helpful. I regularly help parents and teens consider the concept of “structure without rigidity.”
A general predictable routine may have to vary in the case of homework, sports, or family commitments. Talk about these needs one day at a time, resetting bedtime every now and again, but aiming to help the devices get to bed at a reasonable hour.
You’ve heard the saying and have probably said it yourself—“do as I say; don’t do as I do!” Curbing device use is important for the whole family. Devices have become so popular and influential that they are just about another member of the family. A text comes in at dinner and that text gets addressed and even answered. Couples and families spend together time texting their friends and even each other from across the table.
What is important for teens to hear is important for parents to hear: Setting limits is difficult but texts, news reports, and online games can wait.
Hopefully implementing these ideas and conversations will ultimately give your household more rest and make morning rousing a little easier. If it doesn’t work in my house, maybe I should just text my son….”it’s time to get up for school!” Unfortunately, I’m bound to get a response. LOL