My son is a 19-year-old college student here in Texas. I say he is sleep deprived but he doesn’t think so and suggests I don’t know what I am talking about. He usually gets to bed between 2:00-4:00am. He is either on his computer playing games (self report: “I am very good”) or up talking with his with friends in the college dorm. He will drag himself out of bed about 10:00am just in time to make it to his first class. On the days he doesn’t have class he sleeps for 10-12 hours. He sees this as a “typical” and effective pattern. The thing is that he is very bright and his grades don’t suffer, but he seems to. He struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. He also suffers from depression from time to time. To add to the picture he was diagnosed as having ADHD at age 10. He wants to go on to medical school and says his sleep cycle is good prep for his future medical training. Do you think I should back off like he reminds me to do so very often?
Dear Mother Worry:
I don’t know about how much energy you want to spend “worrying” but you concerns are commendable. Worrying can be pretty exhausting. I wish I had a “replacement hair” on my baldhead for how many stories I have heard like this in the past 15-20 years. College dorms are full of young men and women just like your son. Most, by the way, are “very good” at their computer games. And well they should be with as much time as they spend on them! While it is impossible to generalize, especially in this setting, there is a high likelihood that many of the above symptoms you mentioned have a direct correlation to his sleep patterns. One may argue that the symptoms are causing the disruptive sleep patterns, and that may be true. But I have found the situation to be cyclical. Disrupt the cycle somewhere and you will often find success more broadly. It is possible that if he can see a correlation between the number of symptoms on the low sleep days verses those on the high sleep days, he may start to think more broadly. When he becomes interested in his health, it will be helpful for him to understand the practice of “sleep hygiene”. If you are not familiar with it, please look it up.
The fact is our brain and body MUST have sleep. His behavior will eventually catch up with him. BTW, rather than lecturing him you may find a more Socratic approach helpful.
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