Teens Are Sleep Deprived: Two Specialists Offer Advice

Heather Turgeon (left) and Dr. Dolly Klock spoke on the need for teens to receive adequate sleep.


Psychotherapist and sleep specialist Heather Turgeon and family physician Dr. Dolly Klock are mothers to tween and teen kids. When it comes to sleep, they both agree, our teens are not getting enough.

The Pacific Palisades residents offered information about teen sleep to a packed room at a forum on October 16.

According to Turgeon who co-authored the book Generation Sleepless with fellow psychotherapist, Julie Wright; “Research reveals that modern teenagers are the most sleep deprived population in human history.”

If teens get healthy sleep, it could “protect them from anxiety and depression, brighten their outlook on life, improve family connections and make them better athletes and students,” said Turgeon, who writes:

  • The average teen gets about 6.5 hours per night, but the recommended

amount is somewhere between 9-10. (8-8.5 may be adequate and 9-10 is optimal)

  • High schoolers labeled as very sleep deprived were three times as likely to

report symptoms of depression.

  • Students sleeping 6-7 hours per night are 40 percent more likely than those

sleeping at least 8 to have suicidal ideation.

What about the kids that say they just aren’t tired enough to go to bed?

Turgeon, who has a fifth grader at Palisades Elementary and a freshman at Palisades High School, said that “Little kids’ circadian rhythms, otherwise known as their internal clocks, tell them to go to bed early and wake up early…

“As kids enter adolescence, they experience a natural shift to later biological timing. This is not just a preference; it happens at a chemical level.”

Otherwise known as the “sleep phase delay,” teens physiologically are not going to want to go to bed early or wake up early.

Turgeon who did research around the start times of school, was very pleased when California became one of the first states to implement later start times for middle and high school grades.

Starting later she said, “improves the quality of life for our kids. Waking up at a reasonable time, getting the morning sun on their walk or ride to school, feels less stressful.”

It is also safer for kids who drive themselves to school. The effects of sleep deprivation are consistently found to be similar to drinking and driving.

Klock, creator of Adolesssons, has a daughter at Marlborough High School and a son in his first year at UC Berkeley. She helps adolescents and their parents navigate the mental and health issues many teens face.

The reason sleep is so important is because a lot happens that is crucial to our mental and physical well-being when we sleep.

“Growth Hormone is released by the brain at night during sleep, and when sleep is interrupted, so are important physiological processes,” said Klock who feels the “number one reason for lack of teen sleep is overscheduling.”

In the same breath she said, “a close second would be homework and technology.

“Parents love to blame technology for everything, but overscheduling is as much to blame,” Klock said, noting that many kids do not get home from rehearsals or practice until after 9 p.m.

“Falling asleep is the number one issue for adolescents.” Said Turgeon.

Between homework, activities, and technology some kids are busy all the way up to when they go to bed. To get at least eight hours of healthy sleep, a child must “wind down” first.

If your child is having a difficult time falling asleep, Generation Sleepless offers breathwork techniques, mindfulness practices and passive distractions, such as music or podcasts, that might be helpful.

Klock and Turgeon agree, you must create a healthy sleep schedule for your teen seven days a week. Allowing your teen to sleep in on the weekends results in a vicious sleep cycle that carries over into the school week. To remove the constant state of sleep debt and “social jet lag” it is important that kids are up with the sun, to promote the need to rest when the sun goes down.

“REM sleep, when we dream,” Turgeon said, “plays an important role in strengthening the connections in the brain that are being used during the day.”

In REM, creative thoughts and feelings are being processed. Often, people are in a state of REM sleep early in the morning. When awakened too early, out of a REM state, a person may seem groggy or irritable. “It’s because we didn’t get to fully process what our brain was sorting out,” Turgeon said.

“For a good night’s rest, we need at least an hour of downtime to feel resolved,” said Turgeon, whose family has a mandatory television time, where everyone agrees on a show and watches it together without any other distractions. When they are done the kids prepare for bed. “It is just expected and part of our routine.”

Instead of everyone in their own rooms, staring at small screens on headphones, the family has a shared positive experience before bed.

Like Turgeon, Klock takes measures to eliminate the temptation of technology at night “less time on devices results in more personal relations,” she said. To assure technology is not a problem in their house, Klock has a charging station in the master bathroom where all the family’s phones go at night.

“Sleep is a relationship.” Turgeon said. For some, this relationship is fundamental, formed early on by our parents who valued not only sleep for you, but for themselves.

For others, who didn’t form this relationship early, it can be introduced or even enforced, later in life. “Just like healthy eating, sleep is a habit. Sleep is natural and should not be complicated.”

To view Turgeon’s book visit: thehappysleeper.com. To learn more about Klock visit: www.adolessonsla.com.

Parents came to a forum to learn about adequate sleep for tweens and teens.

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One Response to Teens Are Sleep Deprived: Two Specialists Offer Advice

  1. Elizabeth Alford says:

    Three cheers for late start middle and high schools! Made such a difference in our family.

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