Calling all (frazzled, busy) parents of teenagers! This article is about keeping your teenagers healthy. You can get so busy keeping up with your teen’s social/academic/extracurricular lives that it’s easy to forget about keeping them healthy!
Sleep and Your Teen
I’m first going to address some of that “busyness,” as it can lead to a teenager who is chronically sleep-deprived. So often, long hours of homework, plus team practices, other school activities, church/civic involvements, etc. can get in the way of getting adequate sleep.
How much sleep DOES your teenager need? Teenagers need about 9 hours of sleep per night. And that means good quality, un-interrupted-by-distractions sleep. A cell phone pinging text alerts off and on all night does not lead to a well-rested teenager. If your child needs to get up for school at 6am, then they need to be in bed and asleep by 9pm.
Teenagers need their sleep for several reasons.
- It’s a time of rapid growth and change. Teenagers’ bodies and brains are maturing, and sleep is when a lot of that “building” takes place.
- Not enough sleep can further impact their emotional regulation, which we already know is impaired!
- The time that we’re sleeping is when our brain “processes” learned information. Everything they learned that day in school and doing homework needs to be permanently stored. If the student doesn’t get enough sleep, that learning is impaired
- Concentration issues can result from sleep deprivation.
Obesity is also a symptom of inadequate sleep. The more tired you are the more, your body craves energy from food, since it doesn’t have energy from being rested. Also, sleep helps regulate hormones that control appetite, so sleep deprivation can lead to hunger in both of these ways.
Sleep hygiene is a term that refers to setting the right conditions for sleep. Many people remember doing this for their babies…. having a bedtime routine that “sets the stage” for getting them to bed. The same idea applies to older teenagers (and even ourselves!)
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is very important—especially if you have a child who has trouble sleeping.
- Having a bedtime routine, such as a shower/bath, teeth brushed, contacts out, etc. 30 minutes to an hour before bed is ideal.
- Simply turning down the lighting in the house and shutting of the blaring television. Can help with the “wind down” process.
- No cell phones in their bedrooms. Charge the phone and other electronics elsewhere. Additionally, the screens on computers and tablets actually have a type of light tone in them that is stimulating, and so as much as possible, they need to be put away a bit before bedtime.
- Cool, dark and quiet is ideal for a bedroom. Having some white noise, such as a fan or a white noise machine is helpful, too
- Limit or even eliminate all caffeine after noon each day. Teenagers are often sensitive to caffeine and stimulants, resulting in being up half the night, and then needing caffeine to get through the next day… This creates a vicious cycle.
There are SOME sleep problems that need more than “routine” fixes. Teens can have sleep disorders that should be diagnosed and addressed. MANY people don’t know that sometimes a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD may instead be a sleep disorder. Symptoms to mention to your child’s doctor include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (not solved by the earlier suggestions)
- Frequent headaches
- Snoring. (lots of it!)
- Sleep disruptions, such as where they seem to stop breathing momentarily in their sleep and then gasp for air, even waking themselves.
If your teen has any of these symptoms, be sure to tell the pediatrician. He/she can provide you with a referral to the Deaconess Sleep Center. Sleep studies for children ages five and up are conducted, and can be a tremendous help in solving any sleep-related mysteries. For more info, visit www.deaconess.com/sleep.
Let’s talk about nutrition. Teenagers are known for eating lots of fast food, drinking gallons of soda, etc. Teenagers need quality food to grow and function well. This is vital to their growth. Here is some guidance on what your child should be eating:
- “Five a day” of fruits and vegetables is crucial. (French fries don’t count!)
- Lean protein that’s been grilled, broiled or baked is important for growing muscles.
- Getting plenty of calcium is necessary for growing bones. Many teens aren’t getting enough milk, and instead are drinking sodas and sports drinks. (Additionally, the phosphoric acid in ALL sodas is bad for bones, as it can leach calcium out.) So drinking milk, eating yogurt and cheese, etc. as well as dark green leafy vegetables can help your teen get the calcium they need.
- Limit processed foods (Most of the things that come in a box or bag). Whole grain is a much better option than refined grains (whole wheat bread vs. white, raisin bran cereal vs. sugar-coated ‘kid cereal’, etc.)
- If you’re concerned that your teen isn’t getting the vitamins and minerals they need, a daily multivitamin can be taken.
The “routine” vaccinations needed for school admission aren’t the ones I want to focus on. Instead, I want to discuss HPV, as this is an “optional” vaccine that can be given to teens to help prevent the most dangerous/common strains of human papilloma virus (HPV).
The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls starting at age 11 through the mid-20s (but can be given as early as 9). Boys should receive it ages 11 – 21. The vaccine is most effective if given before kids are sexually active. Part of the reason this vaccine is controversial is that HPV is a sexually-transmitted disease that causes genital warts. But HPV is also responsible for the vast majority of cervical/vaginal/vulvar/anal cancer, and some oral cancers. Many parents are concerned that by giving their child the HPV vaccine they are sending a message that having sex is ok. In my opinion, discussion about the HPV vaccine should concentrate on preventing cancer. If you are uncomfortable talking about this vaccine with your child or have additional questions, speak to your physician