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Generation Sleepless: Why Tweens and Teens Aren’t Sleeping Enough, and How We Can Help Them

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Recently, the Surgeon General sounded alarm bells over the growing crisis of teenage mental health. In the last decade, the rising number of teens struggling with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide has alarmed parents and professionals. The pandemic seems to have accentuated this trend. 

Meanwhile, adolescents are sleeping drastically less than the rest of us, and less than they ever have before. Shrinking sleep and deteriorating mental health are not a coincidence. Sleep deprivation creates a wear and tear on the brain and body, increases stress, makes kids prone to car accidents, increases risky behaviors, and exacerbates behavioral and health issues. To address teen wellbeing, we have to address sleep – there’s just no getting around it. 

The crisis of adolescent sleep loss

The severity of the problem is stark: While the majority of younger kids get sufficient sleep, by middle school, they lose their grasp on good sleep and by the end of high school, only 5 percent of kids get adequate sleep on school nights. Teens need about 9 hours of sleep per night, but the average high schooler in the U.S. gets 6.5. That’s a jaw-dropping math problem, because 2.5 hours of missing sleep every night adds up to 12.5 hours of sleep loss by the end of the week. If this were a lab experiment, we’d end it, because it’s dangerous and inhumane. We know too much about how chronic sleep deprivation affects the brain and body. 

How to fix the problem: systems and habits

To fix the problem, we have to change systems along with habits. Without changing the systems that support teens, they’ll always start the day with the deck stacked against them. High schools have to move start times to 8:30 a.m. or later, and limit homework so that teens don’t burn the candle at both ends. Sports coaches can schedule practices that don’t encroach on proper sleep. Sleep improves agility, endurance, and reaction time and makes high school athletes less injury prone – so this is a win-win. Technology companies should take responsibility for purposefully and aggressively stealing our kids’ attention (and sleep), by building in sleep-friendly components into social media and content platforms, especially those designed for kids.

What families can do

What can parents and teens do, at home, to improve sleep habits? Here are a few tips to get you started: 

Teen self-motivation

No surprise to any of us parents: a teen has to feel motivated to get more sleep; otherwise it won’t happen. Teens themselves have to connect the dots between how they feel, what they care about, and how sleep will support this. Teenagers need us to lead with empathy, listen to their ideas and priorities, give them information, have family conversations about sleep, school, and schedules, and gradually hand over control of such things to them as they grow. Teenagers have to find their own motivation for sleeping well. No teenager wants to be told what to do, but in our experience, all teenagers like to feel healthy and happy. 

If your teen isn’t interested in sleeping better, simply giving advice is rarely effective. Adolescents often take this as being lectured to, and their resistance can increase or they just tune out. Researchers have seen that for teens, hearing advice from a parent often triggers unspoken counterarguments in their minds. This doesn’t mean there’s no place for you to offer your thoughts or to give your teen information. It just means the ultimate goal is to help them identify their own motivation. Look for an in as an opportunity to talk about sleep based on something they care about or complain about. For example: “This math homework is so hard.” “My skin looks terrible.” “I keep getting injured.” You can also ask open-ended questions, imparting information in a way that is more helpful: 

Instead of “Did you know that teens need nine to ten hours of sleep?” 

Say, “Check out this one paragraph here.” 

Instead of “Don’t you think you need more sleep?” 

Say, “How do you feel about your sleep?” 

Instead of “Do you think you need to go to bed earlier?” 

Say, “What are your thoughts on when you go to bed and wake up?” 

Instead of “You’re tired, I can tell. Go to bed.” 

Say, “I saw you nodding off while we were watching a movie.”

Instead of “Is your phone distracting you and keeping you up?” 

Say, “What do you notice about your devices and your sleep?” 

Adopt Paleo-Sleep

Sleep is natural, but the modern world is not. The human brain and the sleep clock within are constantly confused by the signals of modern life, and misaligned with the cues of the natural world. Our sensory systems, and especially those of teenagers, become out of sync when signals of light and activity occur at the wrong times, and this creates very late bedtimes, sleep loss, and social jet lag. The beauty is that you can use this information to change your habits and bring yourself more in line with the natural environment. Working with our bodies’ natural sleep systems is what we call “paleo-sleep.” You cannot avoid modern life, but you can take control and manage it in a smart way that brings you more in sync with your natural sleep. 

            Harness the dark: lower the lights in your home two hours before your bedtime. In Heather’s home, the overhead lights all go off around 8:00 p.m. and only lamps remain (her teens don’t even notice, because our eyes adjust gradually). 

            Morning sun: Sunlight in the morning, even through the clouds on a winter day, is crucial to stimulating the internal clock and keeping our sleep systems in sync. Get 5-10 minutes of sunlight in the morning and after a couple of weeks, this helps your teen fall asleep easier at bedtime. 

Resist the glorious sleep-in

On the weekends and holidays, the temptation is to stay up late and make up for lost sleep by sleeping in, but when we lean into this too much, it exacerbates social jet lag and also makes the transition to Monday morning extra hard. As luxurious as sleeping in on a Saturday morning can feel, if we take it too far, it comes back to steal our sleep later on. On weekends, since very few high school students have gold-standard sleep during the week, the best approach is to split the difference, sleeping in some, but not so much as to confuse the body clock. For most kids in middle and early high school, one hour past their usual wake time is enough to enjoy the benefits of a full night’s sleep, without going too far off the weekday schedule. If your teen has an extreme schedule that requires significant sleep deprivation during the week (we can’t ignore the reality for some high schoolers with very early classes and mountains of responsibilities), then he might need to sleep one or two hours later on the weekends. 

Keeping wake-up times regular on the weekends and school breaks and getting five to ten minutes of sunlight in the morning are extremely helpful for keeping your brain in sync and falling asleep at bedtime. 

Here’s a good example of schedules for teens:

Adolescence is a stage of life when proper sleep is vital and game changing—to a degree that few of us fully appreciate. Books on baby sleep are stacked high on our bedside tables, because no one doubts the importance of sleep to a growing baby. But the truth is, a teenager’s brain is going through an equally important stage of growth (with potentially more life-altering and consequential outcomes). Adolescence is an awe-inspiring and pivotal developmental phase, when the brain undergoes massive reorganization and growth, and much of that vital work happens during sleep. Missing sleep raises the risk of mental health issues, heightens teen stress at a neurochemical level, makes athletes more accident prone, and causes the brain’s memory storage to malfunction, which short-circuits learning and academic success. When sleep is missing, the ripple effects on mental and physical health are tremendous and exponential.

Adapted from Generation Sleepless: Why tweens and teens aren’t sleeping enough, and how we can help them (Penguin Random House, 2022), by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright
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Food Is Medicine And What We Eat Is Important

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Your mental state is a critical component of your physical health. And when you’re under a lot of stress, you might not be eating the healthy food that provides nutrients for fighting anxiety and depression. So when we examine what we’ve been eating, most of us discover that the decisions we’ve been making in the name of simplicity, convenience, or saving time have been damaging to our total health – body, mind, and spirit.

A person’s diet is a direct reflection of their health. When a person does not eat the right foods, their body breaks down. This can lead to an overall decrease in quality of life and many other diseases linked to improper nutrition. In North America, our current diet mainly consists of an excess of grain, sugar, fried and fatty foods. As a result, disorders including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and certain malignancies are becoming increasingly widespread.

The science of food has always been discussed; however, with recent technological innovations in food processing and agriculture, people have enjoyed more convenient foods that are less expensive than ever before. Unfortunately, with every convenience comes a trade-off. Smart foods are often packed with sugar, salt, and calories, leading to poor health in some individuals. 

To understand what a person is putting into their body, it’s essential to realize that the small molecules in food are responsible for allowing our bodies to function. These small molecules are called nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and enzymes. A nutrient is not a value unless absorbed by the body through a specific pathway. For example, if you absorb calcium without vitamin D, your body will not use that calcium. 

Eating a balanced diet keeps you healthy, but it helps reduce your stress. For example, eat foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants because they help augment your immune response and prevent toxins from damaging your cells. Vitamins A, C, and E serve as antioxidants that fight off free radicals in the body. Free radicals are toxic products of metabolism that cause damage to your cells. Experts claim that they are responsible for the aging process. Good sources of these vitamins are deeply-colored vegetables- green leafy, yellow, and orange vegetables, such as squash, broccoli, kale, spinach, and carrots.

Iron is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, and it mainly functions to deliver oxygen to your cells. Hence, an iron deficiency, medically termed Iron-deficiency anemia, is associated with weakness, easy fatigability, and pale skin. Tea, coffee, red wine, grapes, and berries are rich in antioxidants that function the same as your vitamins A, C, and E. 
You need a diet that’s healthy and balanced – and one that can fit comfortably into your busy lifestyle.

Here are some of the recommended dietary guidelines.

Eat a diet high in fresh vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. 

Exercise every other day to release endorphins, feel good, get the blood flowing, and reduce stress levels. 

Eat salt only when you need it, but not too much as your body does not need it. Many people with anxiety are hypothyroid or have low magnesium. When your body needs more sodium, it can indicate that you are not producing enough cortisol or are dehydrated. If you experience chronic anxiety, I recommend working with a physician to run tests on cortisol levels and then take salt supplements as needed. Use spices like turmeric, ginger, curry, and aromatic herbs like parsley, rosemary, sage, and basil.
Eat low-fat meals because they will cause a minor spike in blood sugar levels: think lean meats, eggs, vegetables, and nuts; avoid dairy if it makes you feel anxious. 

Drink lots of water — keep hydrated all day — ideally at least half a gallon if possible — your brain needs water to function optimally! 

Avoid foods that you know will make you feel bad, such as dairy, even with low-fat content. You can cut out dairy and not worry about it! 

Avoid sugar, caffeine, processed foods, alcohol, and any other substance that makes you feel bad or increases anxiety levels. Also, avoid coffee — drinking more than one cup a day can cause anxiety in some people. Coffee is also dehydrating and inhibits the absorption of minerals from food/water/supplements — try caffeinated water as a substitute for coffee if you like the caffeine kick. 

Find a natural health professional that you can talk to or work with to quickly get the results you want. 

Healthy foods and nutrition can help you stay fit, but they can also assist you in treating disease. When you nurture your body physically with these nutrient-dense foods, your mental capacities improve, as does your spiritual welfare. Moreover, because your spiritual health is at its best, it will radiate to the exterior world, causing others to notice you’re happier and more relaxed, and your stress levels have decreased dramatically.

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The Points of Light Civic Circle Offers Real Ways You Can Change the World 

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Sixty-six percent of Americans don’t believe they can make a big impact in the world. 

That figure is according to Points of Light’s research on civic engagement. But what if I told you there are actually many ways to drive change? 

Today’s political climate can feel divided or even stagnant, but the truth is, you really can make things better, starting with your own community, one act of kindness at a time. And those aren’t just words. I’m here to share real, practical ways for you to make a difference. 

The Points of Light Civic Circle helps people connect to opportunities and understand that doing good comes in many forms. It is a framework that represents your power to lead, lend support and take action for causes you care about and live your best civic life. 

The Civic Circle provides actionable examples of all the ways you can change your community to reflect the world you want to see around you. In fact, you’re probably doing some of these things already. Are you helping a neighbor by picking up groceries or chaperoning on your child’s class field trip? You’re volunteering. Did you vote in the last election or help others get to the polls so they could vote? Those acts of civic duty illustrate the “vote” element. When you buy a product, do you choose to support companies that reflect your values or advance a social cause? That’s called “purchase power.” There are nine elements of the Civic Circle, and countless ways to bring each one to life. 

This blog is the first in a five-part series that will help you find real and manageable ways to activate the Civic Circle through apps, documentaries, podcasts and books. 

We also offer other resources to help you connect with all the ways you can become empowered to be the change you want to see in the world. Check out our videos that provide an in-depth look at each element of the Civic Circle. And don’t miss Civic Life Today, our digital magazine series. Each issue takes a deep dive and provides materials, ideas and inspiration so that you can become civically engaged.  Get started today, and launch your own civic engagement journey with these tools. 

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Are you an Amateur or a Pro? 30 Differences to Help You Decide…

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My client, Sebastian, thinks he’s behind on “life”.

He thinks he missed the memo the rest of us received on how to live a happy life.

I know better.

Sebastian hasn’t fallen behind and there is no such memo.

We’re all just trying to figure it out.

Unless we’re not. And there are a lot of people who simply are not trying to figure it out.

My friend and Professional Coach, Elaine Taylor-Klaus, calls them Status quo-ers — as opposed to Growers.

Anyone who makes a serious commitment to working with a Professional Coach is by definition a “Grower” and Sebastian is no exception.

Growers want to know, feel and live more. They push every boundary and sometimes fall off cliffs. They say “yes” to way too many things and often feel overwhelmed and over committed. They have a congenital distaste of the status quo and will sabotage any situation if it feels like “settling” to them. They’re insatiable and often don’t know what exactly will assuage their hunger.

Growers often appear to the world as troubled, frustrated and critical.

Inside they feel unfulfilled and misunderstood.

The truth is that they can’t help but be driven by Oscar Wilde’s belief that,

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.”

Growers will break every piece in the china shop when they find themselves just existing and not living as they see fit. And they suffer for it.

That is… until they turn pro and transform their life!

Steven Pressfield famously states in his book, Turning Pro

“Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.”

Sebastian thinks he’s falling behind because he’s still living life as an amateur at 34.

To put the above into context, I didn’t turn pro till well into my 40’s!

Best move I ever made! 

So what’s the difference between living life as an amateur vs. a pro?

Although there is no one size fits all manifesto on “how to turn pro”, here are thirty distinctions I’ve learned which apply to ANY Grower who is truly committed to living a life of purpose, fulfillment and ease.

  1. Amateurs look for hacks and shortcuts — Pros do the work.
  2. Amateurs speed up — Pros slow down.
  3. Amateurs are busy — Pros are focused.
  4. Amateurs sell first — Pros serve first.
  5. Amateurs think it’s about them — Pros know it’s never personal.
  6. Amateurs think life is short — Pros know life is actually really freakin’ long.
  7. Amateurs are reactive — Pros are responsive.
  8. Amateurs live with constant misunderstandings — Pros take the time to get clear.
  9. Amateurs don’t know what success looks like (to them) — Pros  know their definition of success and aren’t afraid to change it.
  10. Amateurs don’t know their core life values — Pros do.
  11. Amateurs want to feel happy — Pros want to feel alive!
  12. Amateurs play to “not lose” — Pros play to win.
  13. Amateurs are harsh — Pros are fierce.
  14. Amateurs secretly enjoy being in the “Victim Mindset” — Pros are a “Hell No” to that!
  15. Amateurs wonder what people say about them when they leave the room — Pros know.
  16. Amateurs have false and limiting beliefs around money — Pros don’t.
  17. Amateurs are constantly searching for life balance — Pros are living an integrated life.
  18. Amateurs think everything matters — Pros know what few things actually do matter (for them).
  19. Amateurs set boundaries defensively — Pros simply honor their “operating system”.
  20. Amateurs think help is a four letter word — Pros actively seek opportunities to help and be helped.
  21. Amateurs don’t have a relationship with their “Future Self” — Pros are best friends with their “Future Self”.
  22. Amateurs confuse knowing with doing — Pros receive knowledge and apply it (EVERY moment of EVERY day).
  23. Amateurs love information — Pros love insights.
  24. Amateurs have intentions — Pros have commitments.
  25. Amateurs have expectations — Pros have agreements.
  26. Amateurs compare — Pros create.
  27. Amateurs live from probability — Pros live from possibility.
  28. Amateurs are focused only on the “Goal Line” — Pros are focused on both the “Goal Line” and the “Soul Line”.
  29. Amateurs set goals with contingencies — Pros know contingencies are just excuses and NOW is the time!
  30. Amateurs create from the past — Pros create from the future.

Now that you are aware of the 30 differences between an amateur and a pro, where do you see yourself?

And I’d love to know why. Get in touch with your answer.

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