How to Stop the Zombie Teen Plague

zombie teen

Which is scarier, zombie or teenager? Both can be scary, but the zombie teen is unpredictable and honestly outright terrifying!

Often they are bright, pleasant, and full of energy. This is usually later in the evening when you are ready for lights out. Being partially nocturnal they stay up with the bats, scorpions, and cockroaches. When morning comes, generally all too soon, they don’t seem to wake unless a freight train comes crashing into their bedroom. These red-eyed creatures of the night rise groggy, cantankerous and incoherent. Their sleep loss leaves them exhausted and irrational, with little impulse control. They have lower academic performance, increased risk of accidents, and a higher incidence of depression than their peers.

How widespread is the zombie teen plague? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly 40% of teens sleep fewer than 6 hours a night; serious sleep deprivation = zombie teen. Less than 25% sleep eight hours, and only 7.6% sleep the recommended 9-10 hours a night.

Why is this happening? Sleep researchers have discovered that the adolescent body clock is delayed, releasing melatonin about 90 minutes later at the onset of puberty. Teens don’t get sleepy as early as the rest of us. They get over stimulated by the sugar and caffeine laden energy drinks they chug to make it through the day. They are also more reactive to nighttime light. To compound this problem they are reducing their melatonin levels by up to 22% when clutching their glowing smart phones and tablets into the late night hours.

Teenagers are night owls, not early birds. Yet, they need to get up between 5:00 and 6:30am to make the morning school bell. How do we help them? The U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has suggested a later school time, which would give teens more time to sleep according to their natural sleep cycle (Teen Sleep Zombies on TODAY). Makes sense, later start times means more alert teens and better student achievement. Some schools do have late start, but this is not all that common. Perhaps Mr. Duncan can affect some change on this front? In the meantime, how do parents stop the zombie teen plague from infecting their family?

With two teenage boys at home my wife and I have some personal experience on this front. Admittedly it is not easy to stop the disease. You need strong endurance and a good plan of attack. These sleep hygiene tips should help you prepare for battle.

10 Tips to Stop the Zombie Teen Plague

  1. Make sleep a priority
  2. Remember you are the parent
  3. Body clock, same daily sleep and wake times— weekends too
  4. Set a 9-10 hour sleep goal
  5. Just say no to sugar and caffeine
  6. Screen time, power down at sundown – 2 hours prior to bedtime
  7. Bedroom, quiet and dark like a cave
  8. Temperature, find the comfort zone
  9. Meals, avoid heavy foods late in the day
  10. Liquids, stop sips two hours before bed

Start here, try these tips as preventative measures or to transform your zombie teen back into a happy, alert, bright-eyed human. If you need more help consider a sound sleep aid to help set the brain into a healthy sleep rhythm. Concerned your teen has chronic insomnia, (at least three nights a week for a month or longer)? Contact your physician for a closer look.

10 thoughts on “How to Stop the Zombie Teen Plague

  1. Preston says:

    Great insight Alex. However, I am not in agreement with the later school starts. It contradicts the “your the parent” commandment you gave on #2. If this is the time you have to get up, then you need to adjust accordingly. With a later start it is permission to keep it going longer into the night.

    • Alex Doman says:

      Not a contradiction. Parent commandment #2 holds. Later school starts means a change in official school times. Starting classes even one hour later in the day has a dramatic impact on academic performance in schools which have adopted the practice.

      • Alex Doman says:

        Milly, Very sorry you don’t like the image. Thank you for telling me. I too am a parent and don’t much care for it myself. I love beautiful things and this picture is clearly the opposite. The reason I chose this image (the least gruesome teen zombie I could find incidentally) is that visuals stir emotion and get attention. This post required an image which spoke to just how horrific sleep deprivation is for our children. Enjoy the day, Alex

  2. Milly Landers says:

    Why don’t we just give up public schools. It saves lots of tax money especially for those folks that protest they don’t have any children in public school and don’t care about children getting an education. OMG, the building expense, (we can move the homeless into the buildings) , teacher salaries gone, administrative salaries gone, special ed (autism, for example, gone) and just home school/online. That is the reason the wealth/poverty gap keeps increasing. Wealthy parents choose private school; parents in poverty have no choice. Talk amongst yourselves!!!

  3. Dr Michael Molton says:

    Being a medical professional myself and having a ‘teenage zombie’ I instantly recognised the phenotype. Definitely going to try this approach. The person who didn’t like the image has probably been lucky enough to have missed direct and personally responsible, day-to-day contact with the present generation.. It’s not difficult to remember I am the parent, but it is almost impossible to get 15YO to acknowledge it.

  4. Carol says:

    The tips for teen sleep make good sense but I don’t understand the stop sips two hours before bedtime. As long as it’s water it helps to re-hydrate the brain and body. Unlike many of us oldies, most teens can sleep through with a full bladder no problem.
    I agree wholeheartedly with sticking to routine waking times at weekends – even an hour later can make for frayed tempers.

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