Answer: This is not an unusual concern for parents of children this age, but it certainly can be frustrating. You didn't say whether your son is concerned about lying awake at night or whether he recognizes the impact it's having on his school behavior. But, whatever his feelings, it will be important to avoid a power struggle and to make sure that you and he are on the same team. A first step is to sit down together to identify the problem. Maybe he's worried about something and can't sleep, maybe he's just not sleepy until later at night or maybe he's pushing to be a grownup with later hours. Then brainstorm some possible solutions together. Depending on what the problem is, here are some things that may be helpful.
If your son is stressed about something, gently encourage him to talk about it. Unspoken worries are the ones that most often keep us awake.
When he just can't fall asleep, lying there and worrying about not sleeping can only make matters worse. Instead, help him see this as a time to do something he enjoys, like listening to favorite music or reading a good book.
Encourage your son to discharge some of his tension and energy through after-school activities. But avoid vigorous exercises or highly stimulating activities later in the evening, because those can interfere with sleep.
Work together to establish evening routines that are conducive to sleep. For example, you might decide that the hour before bedtime is quiet time with no visitors, phone calls or lively activities. Sit down together for a comforting snack of cereal, yogurt or toast and cocoa. This could be a good time for a game of cards or a jigsaw puzzle.
Sleep experts say that it is best to maintain a consistent pattern of bedtimes and rising times even through the weekend. (Easier said than done for many of us--especially for adolescents.
There's a good chance this problem will pass on its own, almost regardless of what you do. But if, after trying some of these suggestions for a few weeks, it continues to be a concern for you, your son and his teachers, I'd suggest that you and your son talk to your pediatrician. There may be a physical or psychological issue that needs to be addressed by a professional.
Editor's note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. You may fax them to (612) 624-6369 or send them to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.