If you’ve ever listened to an alarm go off for 30 minutes straight or spent hours trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to convince your teen to get out of bed, then you’re familiar with the sleep struggles faced by teens and their parents. But before you invest in a rooster or bring your hose indoors, consider why your teen needs to sleep in and find out what you can do to improve their sleep health.
Why Teens Aren’t Sleeping Well
Sleep deprivation is common among teens today. In fact, as few as 15 percent of teens may get enough sleep at night. Some of the factors working against teen sleep are a shift in their sleep-wake cycle, school start times, busy schedules, and poor sleep hygiene.
When puberty hits, teens shift to a later sleep-wake cycle as their bodies are developing into a more adult schedule. Kids who used to get tired at 8 or 9 p.m. may not feel ready to go to sleep until 10 or 11 p.m. after their biological clock shifts.
Teens’ later bedtimes typically conflict with school start times, which are often as early as 8 a.m. A teen who goes to bed at 11 p.m. and needs to wake up at 7 a.m. to get to school on time has just eight hours of sleep time available each night with no wiggle room -- although teens need between eight to 10 hours of sleep. If they find it difficult to fall asleep, wake up in the middle of the night, experience poor sleep quality, or need to get to get up earlier, they won’t get the sleep they need.
Even if teens start feeling sleepy early enough to get the sleep they need, responsibilities and distractions may keep them awake. It’s not unusual for teens to stay up well past their bed time completing homework, connecting on social media, or playing games.
Screen time can be especially damaging for sleep. Not only can it keep teens engaged and awake well after they should be sleeping, the blue light waves from electronic screens can send a signal to the brain that it’s daytime and time to be awake, which can throw off their circadian rhythm and keep them up later at night.
How You Can Help Your Teen Sleep Better
Although it’s common for teens to struggle with sleep, there are ways to help them get the sleep they need. Consider these strategies for better teen sleep:
- Cut back on commitments: Encourage your teen to examine their schedule. If there’s just too much to do each day and commitments spill into sleep time, ask them to consider what they can cut while still focusing on what’s most important.
- Limit naps and sleeping in: It’s common for teens to catch up on sleep over the weekend or with naps during the day, but these can be confusing for their sleep cycle. If they nap too long or too late in the day (or both), they may not be able to sleep at night. And sleeping in over the weekend can throw off their body’s sleep schedule. It’s best to stay consistent, maintaining the same sleep and wake times each night and day, even on weekends, vacation, and summertime.
- Give your teen a healthy sleep environment: Talk to your teen about how you can make their bedroom more comfortable for sleep. Choose a mattress that’s appropriate for their needs, offering support, proper alignment, and comfort.
- Create healthy sleep and wake routines: Help teens wind down at night with a regular bedtime routine. Although it may be a bit different from the bath, book, and snuggle routine you may have gone through when they were much younger, a relaxing bedtime routine can help teens prepare to sleep well. Encourage them to stop screen time at least one hour before bed, and practice relaxing habits such as taking a shower or bath, reading a book, or practicing yoga. Make their morning routine something they can look forward to, such as listening to their favorite music or eating a breakfast they enjoy.
- Be careful with caffeine: Some teens enjoy coffee, tea, sodas, chocolate, and other foods that contain caffeine. Although they can be fine in moderation, too much caffeine, and especially caffeine consumed late in the day, can interfere with sleep and leave teens feeling too wired to get to bed. Encourage your teen to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
- Get treatment for sleep disorders: Sometimes, difficult sleep is about more than just normal teen sleep changes. If your teen is struggling with sleep to a point where it interferes with their ability to function throughout the day, they could be suffering from a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders so your teen can get the sleep they need to feel their best.
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.