• How to Help Our Sleep Deprived Teenagers—Mighty Parenting 228 with Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright

  • sleep deprived teenager

    It’s common to hear college students joking about pulling all-nighters and drinking truly unwise amounts of caffeine to get through classes and clubs and survive that one irritating professor who likes assigning ten-page papers every week. However, this trend of increasingly sleep deprived teenagers is not limited to college students alone; in 2018, the CDC declared a global public health crisis for high school students after many studies showed they too were sleeping far too little to be healthy. Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright join Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler this week to discuss this juvenile sleepless epidemic (including their book Generation Sleepless) and how to combat it with our own teens, including adjusting nighttime routines, family screen time, and social media habits. Learn how to help your own sleep deprived teenager and get them back to a healthy schedule.

    Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Player FM | iheartradio | Castbox | Podchaser | Overcast

    Favorite Quotes from the Show: 

    When we’re sleep deprived, parts of our brain are asleep while we walk around during the day.

    We can walk, talk, breathe, but what goes out the window is executive function and the connections with the emotional brain. 

    High Points From Our Conversation on Your Sleep Deprived Teenager:

    Quote about the sleep deprived teenager

    Teenagers have suffered for decades with sleep deprivation, but within the last two decades their sleep average has really dropped below where it should be.

    The main differences between now and the past several decades is the addition of tech and algorithms to our lives that keep teens awake past when they should be, even with COVID showing up. The last five years especially have amplified the sleep deprivation problem worldwide.

    Teenagers are the most sleep deprived population in human history; they are more-so than adults or young children and always have been, but modern-day teens are the most sleep deprived teens that have ever been.

    A lot of physical and mental difficulties tie back to sleep deprivation, as those of us who’ve had infants and small children can attest. Sleep is a cure-all: having enough sleep helps with performance in school, lessens anxiety and depression, helps maintain a healthy body weight, and helps sustain personal and professional relationships.

    The general survival rule for the average human is three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air. But how long can you last without sleep? Sleep is foundational—like air, water and food—and its importance is often underestimated.

    When we’re sleep deprived, parts of our brains are asleep even when we’re up during the day; it’s a survival mechanism to ensure that the essential parts of our brains are still functioning. We can still walk, talk, perform basic tasks, etc… but our executive function goes out the window. Our critical thinking, problem solving capabilities and creative capacity drop.

    Initially, the pandemic actually helped the average sleep deprived teenager get more sleep, as they didn’t have to get up early to go to school or work. However, over time, their daily routine suffered and so did their sleep schedule; it started shifting later and teens still got less sleep—only now it’s been compounded with social isolation and any familial problems that occurred when everyone was basically trapped in their own houses.

    In recent history, there have been three things introduced to general society that have seriously impacted this generation of teenagers and their ability to get enough sleep:
    1. Tech algorithms – technology keeps us engaged, especially teenagers with social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/etc. It’s difficult to stop for them, so stye just stay up later and later being social online.
    2. Homework – High schools have been adding more and more homework to their curriculums; teens end up staying up late just to get all their homework done, and sometimes don’t have the time for anything else. Add in extracurriculars, and their sleep time lessens even further.
    3. Academic competition – the competition for college is only increasing, and teens feel like they need to add more—more classes, harder classes, more extracurriculars—to have better chances of landing the school they want. Sleep is usually one of the first things to go when they’re trying to manage such a packed schedule.

    These three things are the perfect storm of factors that steal teens’ sleep.

    As sleep lessens, anxiety increases; it’s a vicious feedback loop.

    Your teen not getting enough sleep is not down to you parenting wrong; there are outside factors involved—schools, college admissions, and big tech companies need to make changes to how they operate to help our teens.

    Tech companies don’t have your best interest at heart; they care about profit, not about how much sleep you are or aren’t getting. We want to put pressure on these companies to become more responsible about their designs so teens aren’t getting pulled in or addicted so easily. These types of discussions have been coming up with Congress and local legislators, so inform yourselves, talk about this at home, and when you feel confident, contact your legislators to see what you and they can do to start making changes.

    Something else we can do is encourage less tech use in our homes. There’s many different ways to do that, so here’s a few you might want to try:

    • Examine your own use—ask everyone in your house to think about this: just how often and how long are you on your phone or computer or gaming device? When are you on for work or school and when are you just mindlessly scrolling?
    • Discuss and make a plan as a family. Set some goals for each person, and keep the discussion judgement-free.
    • No tech zones/days/hours—try setting one area of the house as a no-tech zone, or setting up a certain time day as no-tech time; use that zone or that time period to play games or talk or exercise instead.
    • Create a family challenge—make it a challenge to stay off devices for a certain amount of time per day (or at a certain place); your teens might want to try it with friends or teammates.
    Tech and its relationship with sleep:
    • Tech (all tech, including lighting and speakers, not just phones and computers) moves us away from natural sleep cycles
    • When researchers take kids camping with no technology, the kids usually end up sleeping for 10+ hours per night
    • We are built to respond to the sun and the darkness. When your teen first wakes up in the morning, have them get up, go outside and get some morning sun
    • Don’t sleep in too much on weekends, maybe an hour or two past when you get up during the week, maximum
    • Staying in sync with the sun’s cycle really helps your body’s own circadian rhythms and your amount and quality of sleep

    Sleep needs a prelude and an epilogue; it needs some some space around it. Our bodies need to experience sunset and a quieter time before and after the sleep cycle. One way to help with this is using red lights instead of the normal bright lighting in bedrooms and other areas of the house you frequent on the evenings.

    When we move away from anything engaging or exciting or upsetting in the evenings, our bodies have time to release melatonin to prepare for sleep. When you start doing that in conjunction with a consistent bedtime, you’ll be surprised at how easy it becomes to fall asleep.

    To help your sleep deprived teenager create new sleeping habits, you need to work together to create new routines and stick to those routines. 

    In your family meeting, discuss what to do with devices before bed:

    1. Light—blue light emitted by devices impacts your brain’s sleep patterns; so do bright lights. Try using red lights and low lights in the evenings.
    2. Stimulation—whether positive or negative, devices are still stimulation; encourage your family to turn off their devices at least one hour before bedtime.
    3. Flow—devices create a sense of flow, of elapsing time, that can push bedtime a lot later; again, turn off the devices before bedtime, and figure out any accommodations your kids need, like an alarm clock or a white noise machine, for their rooms.

    Human beings sleep best in dark, cool, boring spaces. Keeping devices out of bedrooms at night helps keep stimulating thoughts, lights and sounds at a minimum so you and your teens can get a better quality of sleep.


    Generation Sleepless: Why Tweens and Teens Aren’t Sleeping Enough and How We Can Help Them

    Beneath the Surface – Understanding Depression In Teenagers | Kristi Hugstad | Episode 111

    When You Or Your Teenager Are Always Tired | Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith | Episode 148

    Digital Wellness for Teens and Families | Kai Hersher | Episode 154

    Should You Limit Screen Time or Do This Instead—Mighty Parenting 211 with Tiffany Shlain

    Our Guests Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright:

    Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright discuss your sleep deprived teenager

    Heather Turgeon, MFT is a psychotherapist who specializes in sleep and parenting. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two kids. She and Julie frequently speak at parenting centers and schools, and offer sleep consultations and individual therapy.

    Julie Wright, MFT is the creator of the Wright Mommy and Me, one of Los Angeles’ best known mommy and me programs. She has specialized training and experience in the 0-3 years, interning at Cedars Sinai Early Childhood Center and LA Child Guidance Clinic. She divides her time between Los Angeles and New York City and has a son in college.

    To learn more or connect with our guests visit https://www.thehappysleeper.com/.

    Our Sponsor: 

    Inward Bound Mindfulness Education — Mindfulness courses and retreats for teens and adults 

    iBme offers online and in-person retreats, mindfulness courses, and weekly meditations tailored for various communities of teens and young adults (and even parents!) Visit iBme.com/mightyparenting  to learn more and register for programs, including in-person summer retreats.