Don Shifrin MD FAAP
Clinical Professor Pediatrics
University of Washington School of Medicine
From toddler to teen there aren't many mothers who don't answer the question, "Is your child getting to bed on time and getting enough sleep?" with a horrified look and a resounding "Are you kidding?"
From separation anxiety for parents at 18 months to separation anxiety up to 18 years about their electronic devices, children’s, tweens’, and teens’ sleep debt rivals our national debt. What can be done?
Well, first - you gotta ask. So ask (and I often do ask teens and tweens directly, not just their parents) in a neutral voice, what could possibly be keeping them up that late? For children and middle schoolers it is often screens. I admit that high schoolers with school, activities, athletics, and homework often have only 3-4 hours during the day to get 'everything' done. (Not very efficient however if they are multi-tasking with social media, YouTube , Spotify, texting). That said, they still need as much sleep as they can (and do) allocate.
Then ask, especially about teens, when do they go to bed in the summer (generally late) and when do they wake up (usually later)? This delayed sleep phase in summer is normal, but is a huge detriment once school starts. But it will tell you unequivocally how much sleep their bodies desire to get if left alone without an alarm to wake them. Now translate that to the fall and school. There is no way you can guarantee them the 9-10+ hours they are probably getting in summer, and definitely should need during school.
That means that every minute of sleep they are losing is vital, because they are already, by definition, incurring a sleep debt Monday-Friday. Then, and only then, can you state that when they take their devices to bed, next to the bed, or cease using them right before bed, their brains will not be sleepy for 15-30 minutes at a minimum. And they need every one of those precious minutes for rejuvenation for school attention, focus, homework, and athletics.
Parents now are paying rapt attention as they have, by their own admission, been pleading with their kids to cease and desist taking their devices to bed. I make the point that their bed is a sacred place where it is OK, and a must, to disconnect. You will get pushback and the usual denials. As well as the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out). But the time you can put in clinically to alleviate this habit is well worth the effort to try to insure them at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. And the moms will love you for it!
Oh, and be sure to follow up at the next visit.