As any parent of a teenager knows, rousing a sleeping adolescent can be, to put it mildly, difficult. Grumpy and monosyllabic until later in the day, it can be just as much of a struggle to get your teen to go to bed at night, what with homework, instant messaging, email and general late-night wakefulness. On the weekends, the door to their bedroom remains shut until the noon — or even later — while everyone else in the family, up for hours, goes about their business.
Should you be concerned about this antisocial rite of passage? Or is there something more to your adolescent’s sleep habits?
Daytime sleepiness and late-night alertness are the result of a shift in the sleep/wake cycle as growth hormones kick into high gear.
Beginning in 1991, Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study brain growth in 1,000 children every two years from the age of 3 to 18 years. They found that during the night, growth hormones are released during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) or “dream sleep,” which takes place at the end of each sleep cycle.
“One of parents’ early observations,” notes Dr. Roger Tonkin, a Vancouver paediatrician and adolescent health care specialist, “is that the kid who used to jump out of bed now has to be hauled out just to get on school on time.”
Importantly, it’s not just your teen’s shoe size that’s getting bigger! His or her brain is also growing. While studies have shown that 95% of brain development takes place by the age of five years, the NIMH study, which was conducted over a nine-year period, indicates that there is a second wave of brain growth, particularly in the prefrontal cortex or “thinking” part of the brain, which continues into the teen years and even into the 20’s.
Even those people notorious for tossing and turning all night are absolutely motionless during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep or “dream” sleep. According to sleep researcher Carlyle Smith, “There is absolutely no muscle movement possible; you are absolutely paralyzed.”
Personally, I find this fascinating because it shows that even though teenagers don’t know or understand what is going on inside their brain, a period of paralysis is needed in anybody’s life to have a rest and to grow.