This week is the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Awareness Week to provide education and to promote the importance of sleep. I have dedicated my posts this week to sleep in babies through teens. I have attended sleep workshops, panel discussions, I’ve read stacks of books on the topic and I regularly consult with families to identify strategies to improve sleep for the whole family so here are six sleep tips for tweens and teens.
Teens and tweens are often not getting the recommended 9.25 hours of sleep they need. Inadequate sleep effects cognitive functioning, academic achievement, family sanity, physical and emotional health and can result in more accidents in teens who drive.
Making sleep a priority for teens is essential to their current health and well-being as well as their ongoing physical and emotional health. Studies show links to poor sleep or difficulty sleeping in younger years to increased anxiety and depression years later.
Learning, practicing and experiencing healthy sleep is a life skill and educating our tweens and teens is a gift.
6 Sleep Tips for Tweens and Teens
Have a regular bed time and bedtime routine
Since teens require 9.25 hours of sleep per night, figure out their ideal bedtime by backing into it based on the time they need to get up in the mornings. Then help them ease into it with a calming wind-down routine.
Having a consistent bedtime routine is good advice from babies through all the stages of life. Some of the main components of a childhood bedtime routine can adapt and grow with kids. The kernels can remain a soothing constant, for example, a hot bedtime bath becomes a hot bedtime shower (helpful for time management in morning, too). Listening to quiet music, reading a book or writing in a journal are elements that a parent can suggest to guide a teen as they develop a soothing nighttime routine. A white noise machine can work for teens, too.
Circadian rhythms are influenced by habit. We need to reset our circadian rhythms each day with external cues and predictable schedules.
Keep bedtime and wake-up times the same on weekends
This is a miserable recommendation for teens! I know, I get it, I hate to say it, but it’s solid advice. Teens really aren’t “catching up” on sleep, instead they’re making it harder on themselves for the upcoming week by staying up later and sleeping until noon on weekends or snow days.
In adolescence, sleep drive, or feeling the need to sleep, shifts later and later. Meaning that they feel more wakeful and less able to fall asleep until later hours. This is called a sleep phase delay and it coincides with greater demands on teen’s time like homework loads, extracurricular activities, and earlier school starting times limiting their sleep.
Teen’s circadian rhythm already has a biological phase delay which is made worse by staying up even later on weekends then sleeping in. It essentially creates a double-whammy for teens.
I get it, I like to sleep a little later, too. So here’s the compromise, there is room for infrequent exceptions for special occasions but it’s best to let teens shift their schedule only about one hour on weekends. If bedtime is normally 9:00 pm (a good bedtime for a teen who wakes up at 6:00 am), then have weekend bedtime be 10:00 pm and she can sleep until about 7:00 am. Researcher Stephanie Crowley suggests a 10 – 90 minute afternoon nap on weekends to give teens more sleep without reducing sleep drive.
Turn off anything with lights a half hour before bed
Here’s another recommendation teens will hate and resist. As with babies and toddlers, parents often have sleep struggles with their kids that require hard choices and confident parenting. There are many things that are best for our kids even when they’re not popular or pleasant to execute.
Sleep rhythms are affected by light. It’s great for a teen to wake up and open curtains and mosey around with exposure to daylight. It helps them reset their clocks and bright morning light is recommended to help with circadian phases. The light from TV, computer screens and iAnythings, works the same way in the teen (or adult) brain adding to their alertness and their inability to fall asleep. A good guideline is to to cut out screen time at least a half hour before bed.
It’s advisable to remove all of these gadgets from a teens bedroom to help manage any limitations you instate.
Use good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene means the things we do to promote sleep. Because their sleep phase delay makes them feel awake later, teens need some tools to help them feel sleepy at bedtime.
Sleep hygiene recommendations include:
- Limit total daily caffeine intake and avoid anything caffeinated within five hours of bedtime
- Get physical! Exercise, especially in the after school hours, helps sleep, but within a few hours of bedtime can be alerting.
- Have a light carbohydrate snack at bedtime (such as pretzels, cereal, crackers or bread) which can make a teen feel sleepy, and a hungry belly can prevent falling off to sleep. While it’s true that warm milk and chamomile tea help induce sleepiness, more than eight ounces of liquids within four hours of bedtime can disrupt sleep. A bedtime snack can be beneficial, while a heavy meal can be counterproductive.
- A hot shower before bed can cause drowsiness because we feel sleepy as our body temperature drops.
- Keep a teen’s bedroom quiet, dark and a comfortable.
- Keep the temperature cool but not cold overnight, while the cooling body feels sleepy, a rising temperature causes wakefulness. (Hmmm, maybe there’s a new way to wake your tween up – turn up the heat!)
Learn relaxation techniques
As discussed throughout this article, teens can have trouble falling asleep at an hour that makes sense for their biological needs for sleep.
Offer your teen options and tools for learning to relax and wind down in preparation for sleep. Deep abdominal or yogic breathing, progressive relaxation, guided visualizations, aromatherapy, and meditation are some possibilities. These are life skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.
Parents, set an example
Mom, Dad, what are your bedtime habits and routines? Do you value sleep for yourself and your household? Use the healthy sleep tips here and be the role models, make sleep a priority in your family. It will benefit everyone and increase the harmony.
Bonus tip! After some feedback, I’ve added this tip – consider it #6A:
Advocate for later school start times
In addition to these tools to guide and help your teen fight biology and get the sleep he requires, you can work to advocate for later middle school/high school start times in your district. Read here for school start time research and initiatives to inspire you to action.