Slack summer sleep schedules can be disruptive to teenagers’ mental health

Summer can be a great time for kids to relax and decompress after a hectic academic year, but a doctor who specializes in the connection between sleep and mental health says sleep schedules shouldn’t vary too greatly.

Slack summer routines can result in a loss of sleep, and that can cost children.

“When teens — or really when anyone — doesn’t get enough sleep, they’re at higher risk for experiencing symptoms of mental health conditions,” said Dr. Tyish Hall Brown, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of behavioral sleep medicine at Children’s National Hospital.

Dr. Tyish Hall Brown is a licensed clinical psychologist who focuses on helping teens to be their best selves. (Courtesy Children’s National Hospital)

Those conditions can include anything from anxiety to depression and ADHD, she said, “and really, it’s about having difficulty regulating emotions, loss of attention, having difficulty making decisions. Things of that nature tend to be connected with sleep loss, and persistent (i.e., between two weeks and a month) sleep loss in particular.”

Hall Brown recommends that teens try to maintain a schedule, even a loose one, so they can be their best selves and function optimally.

That includes not taking naps even if summer schedules allow time for them.

“When we think of teens and we think about them waking up late in the afternoon, it’s not just that they’re lazy or that they’re oversleeping; it’s more that their bodies are telling them, ‘Hey, we need to get more sleep,’ and their clock has kind of shifted so that they’re going to bed later and waking up later,” Hall Brown said.

Teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night.

A good night’s rest is a 24-hour process; tips for that include:

  • Avoid napping.
  • Eat well.
  • No caffeine after noon or 1 p.m.
  • Exercise throughout the day.
  • Get outside and get some sun to stimulate vitamin D.
  • Develop a routine that can include showering, reading or listening to music.
  • Create a welcoming bedroom environment.
  • Reduce stress.

Parents can help ease children’s stress by checking in to see whether anything’s bothering them.

“Being specific with the question can help them navigate the conversation a little bit better,” Hall Brown said. “You want to leave it open-ended, so it’s not just a yes-or-no type of response. But you do want to kind of narrow it down so that they have an easier time connecting with what you’re asking them.”

“So I may ask my teen: ‘How did it go at camp today? Was there anything in particular that you really liked? Was there anything in particular that was stressful for you today?’ And … then you can ask more questions to hone in, depending upon their response.”

Hall Brown emphasized that everyone should prioritize sleep.

“Sleep has a great impact on our overall well-being and can reduce some of the negative feelings that our teens might be experiencing throughout the day,” she said.

July 6, 2022 | How parents can help ease children’s stress to foster better rest (Dr. Tyish Hall Brown with WTOP's Kristi King)

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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