“I try to go to bed but I can’t!”

Your mom or dad may yell, “Get in bed and go to sleep!” But that’s easier said than done. If you are like most teens, you like to stay up late. But why? You can blame it in part on TV, homework, instant messaging, and fun drinks filled with caffeine.

But there’s more to it than that. Researchers believe that teens are “pre-programmed” to fall asleep late and get up late, unlike adults and younger kids who can fall asleep early and get up early. Some think teens need more hormones for growth, and growth hormones are made during sleep. These experts now ask why schools start so early, if teens need to sleep longer to stay well.

If I sleep less, what’s the big deal?

Teens who get poor sleep have problems getting along at home and at school. They have poor grades. And sleep-deprived teens tend to be apathetic. They are also more at risk for car wrecks, making the problem of teens and sleep even more serious.

Studies have actually demonstrated that in communities where the high schools start times have shifted to an hour or more later, there is less truancy, student grades have improved, and there are fewer car accidents involving teens.

If you are not in one of these communities, there are still ways to help you sleep better,  and to do so in such a way that you can function with the rest of the world.

Why can’t I fall asleep? Why can’t I wake up?

Everyone has an internal clock that influences body temperature, sleep cycles, appetite and hormonal changes. The biological and psychological processes that follow the cycle of this 24-hour internal clock are called circadian rhythms. Before adolescence, these circadian rhythms direct most children to naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m. But puberty changes a teen’s internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy — often until 11 p.m. or later. Staying up late to study or socialize can disrupt a teen’s internal clock even more.

How much sleep do I need?

Most teens need about nine hours of sleep a night — and sometimes more — to maintain optimal daytime alertness. But few teens actually get that much sleep regularly, thanks to part-time jobs, homework, extracurricular activities, social demands and early-morning classes. More than 90 percent of teens in a recent study reported sleeping less than the recommended nine hours a night. In the same study, 10 percent of teens reported sleeping less than six hours a night.

This sleep deprivation can be serious.

Daytime sleepiness makes it difficult to concentrate and learn, or even stay awake in class. Too little sleep may contribute to mood swings and behavioral problems. And sleepy teens who get behind the wheel may cause serious — even deadly — accidents.

A Brown University study found that teens need just as much sleep as they did when they were preteens (about 9 to 10 hours). But teens get on average just over seven hours of sleep a night. In this study,  teens who got A’s on their report cards got an hour more sleep at night and went to bed an hour earlier than peers who got D’s and F’s.

An Irregular Sleep-Wake Schedule, the number one cause of insomnia!

An irregular sleep-wake schedule happens when you are awake most of the night, perhaps spending too much time on the computer or texting, or even reading a book.

Then you need to sleep much of the next day to feel good. Teens who stay up until the wee hours of morning on weekends have problems getting their bodies to fall asleep early on Sunday night so they can be fresh for school on Monday. Many teens have a lot of trouble waking for school, many teens are late to school, and many fall asleep in their first classes.

To fix this irregular sleep-wake schedule, you have to go to bed, and awaken at the same time each day. If you do not yet have a serious sleep problem, you can flex this about an hour.

Can I catch up on the weekends with my sleep?

Catching up on sleep during the weekends seems like a logical solution to teen sleep problems, but it doesn’t help much. In fact, sleeping in can confuse your internal clock even more.

A forced early bedtime may backfire, too. If you go to bed too early,  you may train your body to be awake in bed, as you lie there, awake,  for hours.

How can I reset my alarm clock?

You are not at the mercy of your internal clock. Try these things:

  • Adjust the lighting. As bedtime approaches, dim the lights. Turn the lights off during sleep. In the morning, expose your teen to bright light. These simple cues can help signal when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up.
  • Stick to a schedule. Tough as it may be,  you should go to bed and get up at the same time every day — even on weekends. Prioritize extracurricular activities and curb late-night social time as needed. If you have a job, limit working hours to no more than 16 to 20 hours a week.
  • No naps. If you are drowsy during the day, a 30-minute nap after school may feel refreshing. But napping may only make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  • No caffeine. You may feel that a  jolt of caffeine may help you stay awake during class, but the effects are minimal, and fleeting. And too much caffeine can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
  • Keep it calm. Wind down at night with a warm shower (but not within an hour before bed). Dim the lights.  Turn off the television, computer, and other electronics that are a source of bright light and stimulation.  Avoid —  vigorous exercise, loud music, video games, text messaging, Web surfing and other stimulating activities shortly before bedtime.
  • Do something boring. Try reading  a book or other relaxing activities. Consider using this time to fold your laundry.
  • Use your bedroom for sleep only: Try not to spend too much awake time in your room, and especially in your bed. This trains your body to be awake and active in your room, and in your bed.

Sleeping pills and other medications generally aren’t recommended for teens.

Is it something else?

In some cases, excessive daytime sleepiness can be a sign of something more problematic than just having an adolescent internal clock. Other problems can include:

  • Medication side effects. Many medications — including over-the-counter cold and allergy medications and prescription medications to treat depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder — can affect sleep.
  • Depression. Sleeping too much or too little is a common sign of depression.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea. When throat muscles fall slack during sleep, they stop air from moving freely through the nose and windpipe. This can interfere with breathing and disrupt sleep.
  • Restless legs syndrome. This condition causes a “creepy” sensation in the legs and an irresistible urge to move the legs, usually shortly after going to bed. The discomfort and movement can interrupt sleep.
  • Narcolepsy. Sudden daytime sleep, usually for only short periods of time, can be a sign of narcolepsy. Narcoleptic episodes can occur at any time — even in the middle of a conversation. Sudden attacks of muscle weakness in response to emotions such as laughter, anger or surprise are possible, too.

Ezzz Sleep Tips for Teens

  1. Adjust the lighting. As bedtime approaches, dim the lights. Turn the lights off during sleep. In the morning, expose your teen to bright light. These simple cues can help signal when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up.
  2. Stick to a schedule. Tough as it may be,  you should go to bed and get up at the same time every day — even on weekends. Prioritize extracurricular activities and curb late-night social time as needed. If you have a job, limit working hours to no more than 16 to 20 hours a week.
  3. No naps. If you are drowsy during the day, a 30-minute nap after school may feel refreshing. But napping may only make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  4. No caffeine. You may feel that a  jolt of caffeine may help you stay awake during class, but the effects are minimal, and fleeting. And too much caffeine can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
  5. Keep it calm. Dim the lights.  Turn off the television, computer, and other electronics that are a source of bright light and stimulation.  Avoid —  vigorous exercise, loud music, video games, text messaging, Web surfing and other stimulating activities shortly before bedtime.
  6. Do something boring. Try reading  a book or other relaxing activities. Consider using this time to fold your laundry.
  7. Use your bedroom for sleep only: Try not to spend too much awake time in your room, and especially in your bed. This trains your body to be awake and active in your room, and in your bed.
  8. Take a hot bath or shower about one hour before bed to boost deep sleep. Then keep your room cool (about 68 degrees) to cool your body. One study showed that sleep happens when the body cools. Wakefulness occurs when the body temperature warms up.
  9. If you are stressed, relax with soft music or yoga right before bedtime.If you lie in bed worrying about things, then try writing the worrisome thoughts down. Now, take the paper and place it (along with all the worry) outside of your bedroom. You can address those concerns tomorrow.  If you can’t relax, work with your therapist, or your doctor, for help.
  10. Go to bed early when you’re ill. Even an hour earlier each night can help give your body the sleep it needs to get well. Be sure to plan for this added sleep time if you have to get up early for school.
  11. Try eating high-carb snacks before bed. This makes you feel warm and sleepy. Try pretzels, cereal, graham crackers, fresh fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, vanilla wafers, saltines, popcorn, or toast with jam or jelly
  12. Use good night “scents.” Aromatherapy can boost sleep. Try orange blossom, marjoram, chamomile, and lavender scents. (If you’re using a candle or incense, be sure to put it out before you crawl into bed.
  13. Figure out what other things you use that might make sleep difficult. If you are taking medications, ask your doctor if these might cause poor sleep. If you like caffeinated drinks, cut these out for a few days to see that helps. Many people find that chamomile and valerian herbal teas help them feel sleepy. These days you can find either or a combination of both at most drug stores and supermarkets. Try one to two strong cups at bedtime. Note that if you are taking medications, there can sometimes be interactions with these and with valerian root, and with high doses of melatonin.