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How to Help Your Teen Get the Sleep They Need

 

Hey there, Mama-of-A-Teen. Ever found yourself wanting to (perhaps not so silently) scream into your pillow at night, as you hear your teen still walking around the house fully awake at 11pm? Me too. Turns out it’s not them purposely trying to drive you cRaZEe ;-)

It’s the biology of the teenage brain and their circadian rhythm. During these growth years, many teens turn them into night owls as part of their biology. Making it more difficult for them to fall asleep before 11pm. While knowing this might help you be more patient with them (it did for me!), it’s also important to know how much sleep they need and how it benefits, so you can help them get those hours.

 

Sleep clinics around the UK agree that teenagers (13-18 years) need around 9 hours of sleep a night to function optimally. A little more sleep for younger teens (13-15 years), and a little less for older teens (16-18 years).

Just as it is for adults when teens get the sleep they need, they avoid setting themselves up for chronic sleep deprivation, and instead benefit from:

  • Positively impacting their mental well being, brain development, and physical growth
  • Decreasing their risk of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem
  • Improving their academic performance at school, by not having difficulties with memory, focus/attention, and motivation

 

While weekends and holidays are often the time teens hope sleep rules get to slide, a consistent bedtime routine is what helps long-term. Here are 13 tips for helping them get the hours they need to feel their happiest care-free selves

Instead, discuss the topic with them and offer to brainstorm solutions to help them get their quota of sleep to where it should be.

When you know your teen has had a good sleep and feels talkative, ask them how they felt that day at school, doing a test, or playing sports. Doing it in a way that helps them realise that getting enough sleep improves how life feels.

2. Work with them to stay on a reasonably consistent schedule throughout the week and weekend. An extra 60-90 minutes sleep-in on weekends won’t throw off their bio clocks, but napping on and off all day could. Also, encourage them to have an early night on Sundays to avoid feeling “weekend jet lag” on Monday morning. 

3. Sit together to check your teen’s weekly schedule to see if they’re overcommitted. 

If so, help them cut back on certain activities to alleviate any stress that might have them up worrying at night.

Also, help them review their schedule. If your teen typically starts homework after dinner, help them find an earlier time to get started. This can make a big difference in getting into bed earlier, feeling more relaxed.

4. Start their day in the sunshine. 

When the weather is warm enough, setting up breakfast outside or by a sunny window helps regulate everyone’s biological clock. Making it easier for all of us to wake-up in the morning and drift off at night.

5. Suggest they take an after-school nap to recharge their battery, 

....if they have time. Just keep it to no more than 45 minutes.

6. Ensure they’re getting some sort of regular exercise throughout the week, preferably finishing within 4 hours of bedtime. Exercise raises our core body temperature, which can keep teens alert and interfere with their ability to wind down for sleep. 

7. Just like your bedroom, make their bedroom tech-free too. Using devices at night cuts into your teens’ sleep time, exposing them to light that curbs the body’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Making it more difficult to fall asleep.

8. Set a digital cut off time for the household

Make a last-call on messaging and posting on instagram.

9. Keep their bedroom cool and dark. 

Encourage them to keep it a comfortable and relaxing place that feels cosy to come into at night… in other words, have them pick up their mess on the regular, explaining to them it helps keep their mind tidy too (eye-rolls may or may not follow ;-))

Jokes aside, a regular bedtime routine, where your teen is doing the same things in the same order an hour or so before bed, can help them find sleep more quickly. 

10. Encourage them to take a warm bath/shower an hour or so before bed, as part of a wind-down routine.

11. Teach them to avoid caffeinated and energy drinks. Too much caffeine (found in fizzy drinks) can stop them from falling asleep and reduce their deep sleep.

12. Help them not eat too close to bedtime.  

An overly full stomach can cause discomfort during the night and stop them from getting the deep sleep their body needs for repair and rejuvenation. 

13. Take time to talk through any troubles they might be having. Help them put problems into perspective. Make suggestions like journaling out their feelings, as well as the goals they want to achieve. Writing out a simple To-Do list of things they need to remember/do the next morning can also work wonders.

Bonus tip for older teens: Tie good sleep to car privileges. Sleep deprivation in teens can lead to accidents. One way of encouraging them to get more sleep could be to say, “Not enough sleep, no car.” 

Taking on just a few of these suggestions could make all the difference to a teen who struggles to get the sleep they need to feel good about themselves and their school work.

And if you have any tips, we’d love to hear them – please include them in the comments below. It could be just the thing that helps a family who has a teen struggling with their sleep!

Sources

NHS

The Children’s Sleep Charity

Sleep Med Rev. 2016 Aug; 28: 86-95

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