Helping Your Teen Get a Better Night’s Sleep

By Fairfax Neonatal Associates

Most teenagers are not getting enough sleep, and most parents are acutely aware of this. There are many reasons for this shift, including hectic schedules, early school start times, drinking caffeine, and too much exposure to screens. In addition to all of these external reasons, teens are also fighting against the natural shift in their circadian rhythm that makes their brains want to stay up later and sleep late in the mornings.

Here are some tips for helping your teen stay on track:

Make sure bedtimes and wake times are similar on a day-to-day basis, including on the weekends. Catching up on sleep over the weekends is tempting, but will lead to more circadian rhythm delays making it harder to get back on a schedule during the school week.

If your teen struggles to stay awake after school, have them take a short power nap (30-minutes). This will refresh them enough to stay awake through the evening activities, but won’t be long enough to keep them awake at bedtime.

Bedtime routines aren’t just for younger children; they are helpful for teens too! A short calming bedtime routine helps to signal to the brain that it is time for sleeping. The routine can be as simple as packing their backpack for the next day and taking a shower before crawling into bed.

Make sure their bedroom is quiet, cool, comfortable, and dark. Your body needs a cool dark environment to fall asleep. A white noise machine may be helpful to drown out environmental noises as well. Additionally, their bed should be used only for sleeping so that their brain gets conditioned to fall asleep more easily once they get into bed. So make sure that during the day, your teen doesn’t spend a lot of time awake in their bed — even if it’s for homework or studying!

Minimize screen time before bed. All backlit screens emit a certain wavelength of light (blue light) that tricks your brain into thinking its daytime. Make sure screens aren’t used at least one hour before bed and plan on doing a quiet, relaxing activity for at least half an hour before bed. If your teen spends considerable time on social media, recommend they limit this activity leading up to bedtime. Some teenagers have anxiety over social media performance that can cause problems falling asleep.

Don’t go to bed hungry. If your teen is usually hungry at night, have them eat a low sugar, high protein, high fat snack before getting into bed. Almonds, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or peanut butter on celery sticks would be great options.

Avoid eating or drinking anything that has caffeine in it in the late afternoon or evenings.

With so many distractions present in their lives, teens have a hard time understanding that their brains and bodies require a lot of sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 8- to 10-hours of sleep for children ages 13- to 18-years-old. Talking to your teen about the importance of a good night’s sleep now will help them make this a priority throughout their lifetime!