Teens are so full of potential, so full of life, so...sleepy. Research shows that most teens do not get the sleep that they need on a daily basis. // The average teen needs about nine hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well rested.

Indeed. How many teens do you know who are getting nine hours of sleep?

Even the sleep researchers know that’s completely unrealistic. There’s evidence that they lowered the bar on the recommended sleep requirements for teens for that very reason—they just didn’t think the “real” recommendations were realistic:

The NSF recently published recommended sleep amounts by age group. The recommended amount for 11- to 14-year-olds was nine to 10 hours, and then they dropped that to eight to nine hours for teenagers. That’s not to suggest that teenagers need less sleep, I think we’re just lowering the bar because we realize getting a teenager to get nine hours of sleep is not going to happen. Even then, 90 percent of the teenagers alone were getting less than 9 hours of sleep.

Why won’t they sleep (and what are they doing instead)?

The science of adolescent sleep

Researchers have long known that with adolescence comes a change in sleep patterns. Teens routinely stay up later and have more trouble waking earlier.

Some of that is biological. Before about the age of 10, the body secretes melatonin, the hormone that regulates the wake-sleep cycle, in the early evening. But with puberty the release of melotonin is delayed until 9 or 10pm. “This shift often makes many teenagers incapable of falling asleep before 11 at night,” says teen sleep expert Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D., a professor at Brown Medical School and the director of the Bradley Hospital Sleep and Chronobiology Research Laboratory, in Providence, RI. “Since teens still need about nine or more hours of sleep, they try to make up for the time they’ve lost at night by sleeping in."

#Vamping, #Vamplife

Sometimes I look up and it’s 3 a.m. and I’m watching a video of a giraffe eating a steak. And I wonder, ‘How did I get here?’

15-year-old, Owen Lanahan

It’s not a stretch to speculate that teens who have smartphones (which is, let’s face it, ALL OF THEM) might spend their late night hours texting, tweeting, and watching YouTube. But did you know that it’s so common that it’s actually a thing?

A quick check of Twitter reveals thousands of tweets under the hashtags #vamping and #vamplife. (Not on Twitter? Let me help you out…)

So now teens have an added incentive to post something at 2 am: peer pressure.

You want to seem as cool as possible so you will post something at 2 in the morning, to just be like, ‘Oh, I’m part of this cool-kid group.’

It's a badge of honor to send a tweet in the wee hours and the hashtag #nosleepatall is a popular one. Teen tech expert danah boyd thinks there are two main reasons for this—because teens are wired to connect with their friends (and late-night solitude is perfect for that) and because the average teen's life is so tightly scheduled during the day.

Parents think they are doing good. But hanging out is where young people begin to understand social dynamics. Because of the restrictions placed on them, very few interactions are unstructured until their parents go to bed.

By the light of the screen

There's also mounting evidence that what teens spend the last few minutes of their day doing can have an impact on how quickly they fall asleep once they finally do settle into bed. In case you needed another reason to peel their phones from their tired hands at bedtime—the light of a screen may actually keep them from falling asleep easily.

Limiting screen time in the evening is important, since the blue light emitted by screens on devices like iPads and cellphones can send alerting signals to the brain.

So it's worth looking at what we as parents can do to help teens get the sleep we know they need.

Bedtime for devices

My husband and I do all the obvious things to help our kids unplug at night. We've told them that the rule is “no devices in bedrooms.” The three of them who now have smartphones are supposed to plug them into the kitchen charger before they head up to bed at night. And most of them do this. Mostly.

But more than once I’ve caught one of them (not always the same one…) sneaking in a late night YouTube video or texting a friend whose parents are evidently just as bad as I am about enforcing the bedtime-for-devices rule.

Now, before I run down the helpful advice I've found, let me offer this disclaimer: not every rule works for every family. I know some people who feel that creating a "no devices after dark" rule is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive. These are parents who believe that their kids will ultimately make the right choices—often without being told to do so. And that's a perfectly valid philosophy. But if you're in the group that thinks parents need to lead their teenage horses to water (even if they can't make them drink), here are some suggestions for how to do it:

Tricks for enforcing a bedtime-for-devices rule (the first one is so obvious that I feel bad even saying it…):

Tell your kids specifically what the rule is. Do they have to plug their phones into a certain outlet? At what time? Are there any exceptions to this rule? You get to figure out the specifics that work best for your family. The trick is to get whatever those specifics are out in the open. This works on a couple of levels—it ensures that there is no “but that was never the rule before!” objections, and it gives your kids a chance for some buy-in. Let your kids have some say on parts of the rule, if you can. Maybe set the bedtime an hour or two later on weekends. The more input kids have in making the rule, the more likely they'll be to follow it.

Meet their objections with action. When this rule gets broken, figure out why. My oldest daughter’s main excuse for sneaking her phone up to her room was that she wanted to use the alarm to wake herself up in the morning. My younger daughter’s excuse was that she needed her phone to play soothing bedtime music. Both of these excuses were legitimate. But there was also a way to address them that didn’t involve subverting the “bedtime for devices” rule. To that point...

Buy your kids an alarm clock. I bought a cheap alarm clock (in a color no teenage girl could resist) and gave it to my oldest, as a gift. Here’s another great option that Joe, my friend and fellow member of the RAKKOON team, swears by: Sunrise Simulator Light Alarm

Designate a specific location for a recharging station. And make it a spot that's public and in view of the living room couch (or wherever the parents in your house settle in after kids' bedtime). Now, I'll admit that we have one of these and it's not working as beautifully as I'd hoped. Since we added another smartphone to our household (our 11-year-old son recently got his first phone), we didn't have enough chargers to cover all the devices. Pure laziness meant that I was slow to get a new charger. (And now I'll have to do it, because what kind of hypocrite will I be if I don't??) Here's an article with some good recommendations.

Don't let them keep a phone charger in their bedroom. That's right. If a kid does sneak her phone into her room at night, you can at least make sure that she'll pay for it by waking up with a dead device. }:-) This falls into the category of "control the environment, not the child." (You may need to wander into your child's room periodically to check that this rule is still in place.)

Guilt your kids' friends' parents into joining you in the enforcement of this rule. How often do you get an opportunity to put peer pressure to work for the common good? Not often enough, I'll bet. So start a conversation with your parent-friends about this. If your kid doesn't have anyone to text with because all his friends' phones are on their home charging station by 9pm, well, then your problem is already partly solved, isn't it? :)

Different rules for different families (or even for different kids) Some parents seem to struggle with this rule because it feels hypocritical. If they sleep with their own phones on the bedside table, they may be reluctant to enforce a rule they don't abide by themselves. Or they feel guilty because they let an older kid take their phone to bed, but now they're trying to enforce a different rule for a younger sibling. I had a parent-education teacher once who emphasized that being fair meant "Everyone gets what they need." Younger kids need more sleep. One kid might need a zero tolerance approach that would backfire completely for a different kid. In fact, for some kids, it could be an effective strategy to let them have a couple of exhausted days, if it meant they could learn from experience that it's not worth it to stay up late Snapchatting. Creating different rules for different members of the family doesn't always mean you're being inconsistent. Sometimes it means you're being smart.

Give your kids control (and then offer support) If you're inclined to let your teen make their own choices when it comes to technology after dark, it helps to know enough about it to offer tech support, so to speak. There are some built-in control options on the iPhone that make sense for teens (and adults!) to employ. Like the Night Shift display settings.

Night Shift adjusts the color of your display after sunset. Many studies have shown that exposure to bright-blue light in the evening can affect your circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep. After sunset, Night Shift will shift your display colors to the warmer end of the spectrum, making the display easier on your eyes. In the morning, your display returns to its regular settings.

It's also worth taking a look at the control panel for my personal favorite iPhone setting: Do Not Disturb. (You can read more here about how we use it in the Taylor household and why it's such a boon for parents and teens everywhere.)

Perspective

When you’re the parent of a teen, it’s always good advice to keep things in perspective. Part of growing up means pushing away from your parents and asserting independence. That’s not something we can (or should) prevent.

To some degree, this is the way the world has always worked—even before social media and smartphones.

To suggest that "vamping" is a new phenomenon seems a stretch, to say the least. To put it bluntly: teenagers stay up late. Teenagers like talking to their friends, and can also feel pressured into maintaining elaborate social networks. Ten years ago we were doing it on MSN and MySpace, another ten years ago and teens were holding whispered conversations on their parents' landlines at 1am. And let's not forget the time-honored tradition of simply sneaking out at night.

One last thing

Of course, here at Team RAKKOON we have another way to inspire kids to really and truly put their phones away at bedtime. When teens know that their parents will be alerted to any social media use that happens between 11pm and 6am, they're more likely to do the right thing. (You can read more about our app and the Usage Trends it provides for parents here.)