Gary Coker Ph.D
If you’ve ever noticed that you tend to feel energized or drowsy around the same time every day, you have your circadian rhythm to thank. What is it, exactly? Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.
As a young boy with clearly established bedtime and morning arousal my circadian clock had no difficulty keeping me in rhythm. But just imagine you have spent the day in the house engaged in a virtual classroom due to school closure. In the midst of this process you must maintain your social status with your friends via social networking.
Parents, a major premise you must accept is that teens have an all-consuming desire to be with friends and this is reasonable and what they should want to do. In fact, you should encourage their social connections and help them figure out how to maintain those interactions, albeit, from a distance. As a college professor who has studied adolescents and peer relationships, I find it helpful to think about the reality of our existing situation from a developmental prospective.
As an adolescent I need to be told that my ‘future self’ will be happier the next morning if I close my laptop, place the e-mails on hold and try not to make the day just a moment longer. “But mom!!” “just a moment longer…….and then another……. until suddenly, it’s an hour past bedtime. The result of this situation is a lethargic, tired individual the following day, not to mention the emotional stress and anxiety produced. The first defense mechanism sought by adolescents and adults is to change the circadian rhythm with ‘naps,’ late bed time and a myriad of other activities.
Factor into this scenario the ‘blue light’ emitted by most of the screens we stare into for much of the waking hours suppressing the secretion of melatonin. In other words, our devices are not only a diversion, but they also keep us alert much later than is healthy.
In data collected on Character Lab Research Network the more hours teens spend on social media and video games the less they sleep. This is where establishing the circadian rhythm becomes critical.
As a parent, an effective way for you to triumph over the present massive time your child spends before a ‘screen’ is to manipulate your situation to advantage. Very much like behavioral modification you will practice situational modification.
For instance, you can make it a family rule to keep the chargers for cell phones and the cell phones themselves, out of bedrooms. Better yet, you can go analog by practicing and requiring individuals to curl up with a good book for the last hours of the evening. Bedtime should not be constantly moving and readjusted.
Once the circadian rhythm is established you and your family will have a healthier lifestyle.