Teenager sleeping in a library

Sync Up that Sleep

When your teenager’s sleep rhythms are disturbed, he or she may find other areas of life, such as eating, fighting sickness and creative thinking, are off-kilter as well.

In fact, one study revealed that teenagers whose sleep time varied by more than an hour in duration from night to night tended to eat an average of 201 more calories each day, including excess nighttime snacking and carbohydrate consumption, than their peers who slept the same number of hours each night.

“Our bodies have temperature and hormonal rhythms,” says Margaret Mike, M.D., Medical Director of the Sleep & Wake Center, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice.

Board certified in sleep medicine, neurology and psychiatry, as well as electroencephalography and neurophysiology, Dr. Mike is referring to patterns in which body temperatures drop at night and in midafternoon, prompting both nighttime sleep and the after-lunch siesta.

“We function better when those rhythms are in sync,” she continues. “Sleep irregularity is one example. Jet lag is another. When our rhythms are out of sync, hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, which control appetite and fullness, become disrupted.”

It’s not just lack of sleep that’s the problem. As the study implies, alternating amounts of sleep also negatively impact hormonal rhythms.

“Parents may let teenagers sleep in on weekends because they’ve lost sleep during the week,” Dr. Mike says. “As adults, we may be guilty of that ourselves. But that’s like inducing jet lag every weekend. Come Monday, it is hard to wake early.”

Irregular sleep patterns — which include uneven amounts of sleep and variation in the times of day people sleep — may cause other health problems as well.

“Toxins build up in the brain while we are awake, and are carried away via the lymphatic system in sleep,” Dr. Mike says. “Sleepy minds may have problems with word recall, poor reflexes and hampered creativity.”

Sleep problems can also lead to more frequent colds and other illnesses.

Sleep Repair

So should parents send teens to bed early to get their sleep in the right rhythm? Definitely not, Dr. Mike says.

“They’ll just lie awake feeling frustrated,” she explains. “Instead, control the wake time. Gradually move it toward the ideal wake time, and keep it the same, even on weekends. Then they’ll get tired enough to fall asleep at the proper time at night.”

Remove electronics from the bedroom and avoid using caffeine to compensate for insufficient sleep, she advises.

“In addition to getting the right sleep duration, people need a consistent bedtime and wake time, not varied by more than an hour,” she concludes.

If you think you or your teenager might need a sleep study, find a physician at Texas Health Physicians Group.

Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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