Our teenagers have multiple demands on their time including school, part-time jobs, extracurricular clubs, and sports. It seems that the very definition of a successful teenager includes excelling in all of these areas but at what cost? Unfortunately, for over 75% of teenagers in the United States, that cost is adequate sleep.

Teens need 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night, an hour more than they need in their late childhood. Why the extra sleep? Teenagers’ brains are growing and developing just as fast as their bodies are growing. Unfortunately, their circadian rhythms are shifting making it more difficult for them to fall asleep earlier. These night owls become sleep deprived as an increase in homework and activities fill their evenings and earlier school start times cut their sleep cycles short.

Sleep is restorative not only for the body but also the brain. Studies have shown that adequate sleep decreases our risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity while boosting our immune system. Sleep also impacts learning as it increases our ability to focus, think abstractly, and retain information. Sleep deprivation leads to irritability and impulsivity; mood swings are heightened making it more difficult to make clear decisions. Sleep deficiency in teenagers is linked to increased suicidal thoughts, depression, and driving accidents.

What can we do?

  • Place value in sleep over activities. Make sleep a priority in the home! Getting a good night’s sleep shouldn’t just occur before a big game or test, but every day.

  • Ban technology from the bedroom. Not only does screen time occupy our teens’ time but also it exposes them to a type of light that suppresses the production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn off all electronics one hour before bed and keep cell phones out of our bedrooms and charged in a common area.

  • Keep to a schedule. A regular consistent schedule on weekdays and weekends helps to maintain good sleep. If your teen wants to sleep more than 2 extra hours each weekend day, it suggests that he or she may be sleep deprived during the week.

  • Exercise each day. Regular exercise is particularly helpful but try not to exercise late at night as it can make falling asleep more difficult.

  • Avoid caffeine, especially after noon. Caffeine can increase insomnia, anxiety, and headaches. It is never a substitute for sleep.

  • Beds are for sleep. Discourage your teen from doing homework, playing games, or watching TV in bed. Good sleep associations develop when beds are only used for quiet relaxation and sleep. Don’t force sleep. If your teen can’t fall asleep in bed, suggest a quiet activity like reading in a chair and return to bed when sleepy.

  • Be mindful of the summer shift. Most teens like to refill the sleep bank during the summer. However, if teens push bedtime too far past their normal school routine, it can make the return to school in the fall much more difficult.

For more information about healthy sleep habits, visit your pediatrician or explore www.sleepfoundation.org and www.healthychildren.org.

Dr. Elizabeth Evans has been practicing pediatrics for more than 15 years. She lives on Mercer Island with her husband and three daughters. She is actively involved in the community with Girl Scouts, National Charity League, and the Mercer Island High School PTA. She is also part of the wonderful team of pediatricians at Mercer Island Pediatrics.

#teens #sleep #sleepdeprivation #sports #screentime #screendevices

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As a pediatrician, I am passionate about the health benefits of a childhood spent in nature. These benefits are many—increased curiosity, attention, school performance, and pro-social behaviors as well as lower risk to develop obesity, ADD/HD, anxiety and depression. Children who are connected to nature are more willing to protect nature and wildlife as adults.

There can be many barriers for parents and caregivers to give children the gift of time in nature. They may also lack understanding of these benefits and may not know where to start.

My colleagues and I from BestStart Washington founded the Project Nature initiative to help break down these barriers. Project Nature is a multifaceted program and resource to introduce very young children and their families to tools for nature play and information at a very young age—right in the doctor’s office. These resources will reach beyond a “nature prescription” by creating a bridge to nature and nature activities.

This initial intervention by pediatricians is supported by our website, which provides outdoor places and activities finders to help connect children and families to Washington parks, attractions, experiences and organizations. We are also creating social media campaigns to share the evidence-based information we’ve developed along with the places and activities that can help bring children to nature and keep them coming back.

We hope you’ll visit our Project Nature website often and will follow us on social media. You’ll find a community of parents and health care providers who want to help provide pathways for children and families to get outdoors to play and learn.

Dr. Glassy is a co-founder and Board member of BestStart Washington and past president of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She is also part of the wonderful team of pediatricians at Mercer Island Pediatrics.

#outdoors#outdoors #nature#nature #kids#kids

It’s the Holiday Season! Some people love it and some people hate it. Either way, it’s a busy time of year and can be very stressful. As a result, I see a noticeable increase in visits for depression and anxiety this time of year. Unfortunately, there is a corresponding increase in death by suicide this time of year as well. It seems like the wrong time of year to discuss depression, when the holidays should be a time of celebration. However, knowing that ¾ of people will experience a major depression at some point in their life and that there are 45,000 deaths by suicide in our country each year, we have to talk about this devastating illness.

Depression is a complex but treatable illness. It’s complex because there is no singular cause for depression, although stress in general is a very common trigger. Specifically, there are several gene markers which have been identified to be involved with depression. Having a first degree relative with depression nearly doubles a person’s own risk of depression. Then there are strong environmental and lifestyle risk factors for depression as well, such as substance abuse, seasonal, and hormonal changes.

With a diverse group of causes for depression, there is also a diverse group of treatments. These include important lifestyle measures such as good nutrition, exercise and sleep. Therapy and medications are also important treatments for depression. As with anything, before any treatment can be started, identifying those suffering from depression is the first step. So this holiday season, ask friends and family how they’re doing, how they’re REALLY doing. And listen. Don’t be afraid of what they might say; worry about what is left unsaid if you never ask.

For ideas and resources, visit these great links:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The Scooty Fund

The Depression Portal

From all of us at MIP, we wish you and your family a warm and safe holiday season.

#holidays #depression #suicide #anxiety #mentalhealth