Your teenager’s brain and body are in a period of rapid growth and development, making sleep more important than ever. Unfortunately, only 8% of teenagers are getting the sleep they need. On average, they’re getting by with 7 hours of sleep, when they actually need between 9 and 9 ½ hours.
Why are most of our teens sleep deprived? It’s a perfect storm of biology, responsibility, and technology.
Sleep patterns naturally shift during adolescence, making it much more difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11:00 pm – and much easier for them to oversleep in the morning.
Another factor is that socializing, and even school work, are now done primarily on electronic devices. These devices are occupying our teens into the late-night hours, preventing them from going to sleep.
Teens also have more demands on their time and face much higher expectations when it comes to homework, sports, extracurricular activities, and part-time work.
And while studies have consistently shown that teens don’t function well before 9:00 am, many high schools start classes as early as 7:00 am. The teen body clock, driven by developing hormones, is different than that of an adult.
Our teens are exhausted, and given all of these factors, it’s easy to see why.
This chronic sleep deprivation can have a profound effect on our kids’ physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being. When teens don’t get enough sleep, they’re moody and cranky and have a harder time getting along with friends and family. They’re also unable to think as clearly or perform as well in school, sports, or even at work.
It’s been proven that teens who don’t get enough sleep are also more likely to be in a car accident or suffer from health problems like anxiety, depression, and obesity.
Talk with your teen about why sleep is important. Explain that getting 9 or more hours of sleep each night will make them feel happier, stronger, and, if they’re into sports, their athletic performance will improve. Proper sleep will also improve their memory, focus, and problem-solving skills and hence, their academic performance. It’ll also have a positive impact on their health. They’ll have clearer skin and they will be less likely to get sick.
Once your teen is aware of the benefits of proper sleep, it’s time for an action plan. Here are some great tips to help your teen get the sleep they need:
- Make the bed a sleep haven. Your teen will sleep best in a room that is dark, cool, quiet, and free of electronic devices. Encourage them to use their bed ONLY for sleeping — no video games, laptops, tablets, or phones in bed. The goal is for them to associate their bed with relaxation and sleep. Even listening to music can stimulate the brain and disrupt their sleep.
- No screens before bed. Take a break from anything that emits blue light at least 1 hour before bed. Phones, tablets, computers, and TVs all emit a blue light that can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin and reset the body’s internal clock to a later schedule, disrupting sleep. Plan ahead so that any homework requiring a screen can be completed in the early evening, and save “off-screen” work for later at night. They need to quiet their minds. Scrolling through social media or “bingeing” YouTube will only keep them stimulated. Suggest they read a book instead.
- Charge phones elsewhere. Have your teen charge their phone in the kitchen or another room in the house. This will help reduce the temptation to check their phones and may actually bring a sense of relief (once the initial complaints subside).
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Decide on a realistic bedtime and wake-up time and stick to it. Homework may need to be started earlier and ultra-busy schedules may require some paring down. A consistent routine will help your teen get to sleep on time and feel less tired during the day.
- Make a bedtime routine. If you do the same things every night before bed, your body will recognize these as signals that it’s time for sleep. Put your phone away. Drink a glass of milk. Take a bath or shower (to save time in the morning). Dim the lights. Read a book. Even try meditating. As parents, we can dim the lights around the house for a calming atmosphere as bedtime approaches.
- Avoid oversleeping on weekends. Who doesn’t like to sleep in a little on the weekend? However, sleeping until noon will make it even harder for your teen to wake up come Monday morning. Limit their extra sleep to no more than two hours past their usual wake-up time. Need help getting them out of bed? A fun family outing or the smell of homemade French Toast may do the trick.
- Nap early and briefly. Let’s face it, naps are great! And, they’re a better fix for sleep deprivation than sleeping in. But don’t make them too long. 30 minutes is optimal.
- Keep a worry-catcher list by the bed. If your teen is having trouble sleeping because they have too much on their mind, suggest that they keep a pen and a pad of paper by the bed. Jotting down their thoughts before going to bed will make them less likely to stay awake worrying or thinking about them.
- Don’t Procrastinate. Encourage your teen to get a jump on their homework. Completing their work early will make it easier to wind down for bed.
- Avoid caffeine. Encourage your teen to avoid caffeine after 3:00 pm to protect their sleep. This includes soda, tea, coffee, chocolate, and especially energy drinks.
- Tie good sleep to car privileges. Lastly, and most important, if your teen is sleep deprived, they are in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. If they know they’re only allowed to drive themselves to school if they’ve gotten the proper sleep, they’ll be much more likely to commit to getting the rest they need.