Waking Up Sleepy Teenagers

Have a teenager that has trouble going to sleep at night and who can’t be gotten out of bed in the morning by any means short of explosives? They might have “delayed sleep phase syndrome” and a simple therapy using special sun glasses and blue colored lights might be the key. 

My son has this pattern. He becomes very active around 9pm and then cannot sleep until 2am or so. Needless to say, he doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I did the same thing when I was his age. 

I wonder if this is related to artificial lighting? It has been long known that artificial lighting alters the human body in unexpected ways, e.g., causing puberty in girls to start sooner, and this might be another “lightbulb” related phenomenon.

I’m going to give this a whirl with my son using the sunglasses. I’ll let you know if it works.  

10 thoughts on “Waking Up Sleepy Teenagers”

  1. I suspect at some point we are going to realize that electricity has had a large impact on our biorhythms. They are already seeing a correlation between weight gain and insufficient sleep. My life has become completely screwed up by my tendency to play tetris before going to bed.

  2. I don’t think the light is the culprit, rather that our schedules don’t take into account the differences within our inner bioclocks. Some people are natural “owls”, some “nightingales”. As with every other manifestation of hormonal activity, the bioclock changes during puberty or periods of stress.
    Instead of special devices and bringing too much attention to that problem (which might only exacerbate it), may be it makes sense to try mild measures? Like quiet activities 2 hrs before sleep time, a long fresh-air walk, no exercise and/or food after 7pm, a [very] boring book at bedtime and no TV?

  3. Dement talks about this in The Promise of Sleep and suggests that secondary schools start later in the day — I believe he even points to a school district in Minnesota that did this, with noticeable results in student performance.

    From an evolutionary-psychology standpoint, it would make sense for a band of foragers to have both morning people and night people so that several members would be awake no matter what the time. The teenagers get the first shift, so to speak, and then us old guys wake up around 4 or 5 to take over.

  4. Tatyana,

    Like quiet activities 2 hrs before sleep time, a long fresh-air walk, no exercise and/or food after 7pm, a [very] boring book at bedtime and no TV?

    With a teenager? I tried to calm him down a 2 hours before bed time but the taser was leaving to many marks. Seriously, we tried all that. None of it has worked. I had the same problem when I was his age.

    His real problem is that he suddenly switches on around 9pm and remains very alert until well after midnight. He’s more awake and active at 10pm than he is a 6pm. He’s been like that for years. I think its some physiological.

  5. I went through this with 3 of them. Teenage melatonin cycle. I instituted a couple of self-protective rules:

    — “You’re welcome to a TV, but you buy it, and you operate it by means of a bicycle generator. I won’t pay for it.”

    — “You may inform your little friends that their calls to our house between 10PM and 6AM are welcome. As long as there is someone dead at their end of the phone. You too may originate calls from our house during that period, but someone has to be dead at our end. Fair’s fair.” They instantly called my bluff on this by making calls to work on the relationship with little Ms Dysfunction, the “teenagers phone” entered outer darkness the next morning, and that was it for their phone for as long as they lived with me.

    Other than that, sir, it’s their problem. Mine slept in repeatedly, missed their ride, had to walk to school, got attendance demerits, and used some of the fabulous wealth of IQ points (heritability coeficient generation to generation is about 0.8) that the Kenton and Love households have in common, to solve their problem themselves. And when they got to college, they remembered whatever their solution had been in highschool.

    Offer them an offprint of the article about special sunglasses and blue lights./* Have them search pineal gland and melatonin cycle. Then drop it. Teenagers find it respectful to be treated as capable of solving problems that (really) are their business and not yours.
    /* Anecdotal evidence, incidentally, points to “no.” Ever since I caught Miss Molly rockin’ at the House of Blue Lights, I’ve suspected blue lights … are not soporific.

  6. I am a night person. With that being said, if I get up at 5, 5:30 I may stay up that night but I guarantee you I’m dead to the world at 10 or 11 the next night. So, try persistent early mornings with only, perhaps, an hour “sleeping in” on weekends.

    Also, does the kid get vigorous exercise daily?

  7. My body clock appears to be set for 10 AM till about 2 AM, and has been that way forever. When I was much younger, I worked afternoon and overnight jobs, esp. during college and right after, but mornings have always been difficult for me.

    My wife is a day person, so it is difficult for her to try to stay up with me, and I frequently just tell her to go to bed as she nods off on the couch at midnight while I’m watching a movie or reading, or both.

    My three boys were disciplined enough to get themselves up for school, but my daughter really struggled. They all liked to sleep late when they could, naturally, but I think her body clock may be skewed like mine.

    Good luck with your experiment. I will look forward to any updates.

  8. It helps to focus a kid if he’s got a bona-fide job to do in the world, which, if he funks it, disgraces him forever and if he succeeds, puts money in his pocket and self-purchased wheels under his rear-end, gives him independence and makes him feel proud of himself. You don’t think much about biorhythms and such when you’ve got a paper route, and have to get going on it at 4:30 each morning and again each afternoon after school, and collect from the customers each evening. I guess that stuff is passe, though it worked for prior generations well enough.

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