Do you have trouble dragging your teen out of bed in the morning or even for lunch on the weekends? The start of school is a great time to help your teen change their sleeping habits so they can be healthy, successful and ready to learn. Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep each night to stay healthy, but almost 7 out of 10 teenagers do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. Natural changes are part of the reason but schoolwork, after-school activities, jobs and use of technology – 72% of all children and 89% of teens have at least one device in their sleep environment – add to the issue. Light given off by these devices disrupts the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, which makes it harder to fall asleep at appropriate times.
During the school week, teens stay up late and wake up early for school then sleep in on the weekends to “catch up” on sleep. Over time, nights of missed sleep can make their sleep cycles even more unbalanced. Without enough sleep on a regular basis, teens become at higher risk for:
- Behavior problems
- Difficulty learning
- Poor school performance
- Increased potential for injuries and death
- Sexual activity
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Seriously considering suicide
- Increased traffic accidents*
- Experimenting with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs
When teens do not get enough sleep, they lose the ability to control their emotions, impulses and mood. Teens are already poor at making decisions because their brains aren’t fully developed, so sleep deprivation places them at an even higher risk for unhealthy behaviors.
Here are some things parents can do to help teens get more sleep:
- Encourage healthy behaviors. Exercising for at least 60 minutes a day, cutting out (or drinking less) caffeine and eating balanced meals will help them fall asleep easier and sleep more soundly.
- Simplify. Help your teen set realistic expectations for their time so they are not over-scheduled. This may mean limiting after-school activities or work to allow time each day for relaxation and a reasonable bedtime.
- Turn off cell phones, computers and television an hour before bedtime. The brain needs time to relax and prepare for sleep. According to the Child Mind Institute, electronic screens emit a glow called “blue light” at a particular frequency that sends a signal to the brain which suppresses the production of melatonin and keeps kids from feeling tired. There are ways to change the color of the light emitted from your phone to help with this, but light is still light, so screen time still needs to end each night in time for the brain to settle into a “night time” sleep mode.
- Remove all TVs, computers and other electronic devices (even cell phones) from the bedroom. The bedroom should be a quiet, dark room that allows for relaxation. If your teen has their electronic device with them, they will be more likely to engage in social media and connect with friends during the night than get the quality sleep they need. They, like adults, will use devices if they have access to them. When was the last time you stayed up way too late because you wanted to watch “one more episode” on Netflix or found yourself down a rabbit trail on Instagram or Facebook?
- Be consistent. In order to keep their sleep schedule balanced, your teen must go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even on weekends. It may be difficult for everyone at first, but the situation will improve over time.
- Set an example. Do you exercise and eat healthy meals? Drink too much caffeine? Stay up late on the weekends? Watch TV right before going to bed? Sleep with your phone? You are your child’s most important teacher. If you model healthy sleep behaviors, your teen will be more likely to make changes.
*People between ages 18-29 are 71% more likely than other age groups to drive while drowsy, which increases their chances of being involved in sleep-related car crashes. A study in North Carolina found that drivers 25 years old or younger cause more than half (55%) of fall-asleep crashes in that state.
Additional resource: Sleep guidelines for children 4 months to 18 years of age.
Parents, talk to your teens. They will listen!