You might be surprised to learn that teens actually need more sleep than adults. Unfortunately, they tend to be very sleep-deprived. But as parents, you can do a lot to help them establish a healthy routine and get enough sleep.
Below, Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D, clinical psychologist, sleep specialist and author of The Insomnia Workbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Getting the Sleep You Need, offers her tips.
1. Be aware that teens naturally experience a shift in their circadian rhythms.
Because of this natural shift, Dr. Silberman said, teens don’t get sleepy until much later at night. This sets off a cycle: Teens go to bed late and sleep in later the next day.
2. Help them create a bedtime routine.
Just as a calming bedtime routine is essential for adults, it’s also vital for teens. Not only does the shift in circadian rhythms leave teens sleep-deprived but their habits also can sabotage sleep.
Technology is a big culprit. TV, computers and even cell phones emit bright light, which stimulates their brains. So this combined with the natural shift in circadian rhythms leads to sleep deprivation. As such, have your teen limit their technology use.
Also, help them select relaxing activities that they enjoy as part of their routine. (Good options are reading, taking a bath or a warm shower or meditating or praying.) This will become a signal to their brain that it’s time for bed.
Other sleep-stealers include exercising too close to bedtime and consuming caffeine-filled foods or drinks.
3. Wear sunglasses.
Again, bright light is activating. “If your teen has difficulty winding down at night, have them wear sunglasses” in the afternoon and into the evening, Silberman said. Alternately, your teen can use light to help them wake up in the morning (such as opening the shades right away).
4. Get them out of their rooms.
Teens “tend to hibernate in their rooms,” Silberman said. But this can hinder slumber, because one’s bed should only be used for sleep. This helps create the association between your bed and sleep. If a teen is playing video games, studying, eating and doing anything else on their bed, this confuses this connection.
5. Avoid sleeping in on weekends.
This one might be tough to implement but the later your teen wakes up on the weekend, the later they’ll fall asleep at night — which throws their during-the-week schedule out of whack. Encourage them to keep a consistent sleep and wake cycle every day. Consistency is key for good sleep.
6. Talk to them about sleep.
Have a conversation with your child about the natural shift in their rhythm, Silberman said. Also, talk about why sleep is important and should be a priority, she added.
Numerous studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can negatively affect school performance and impair cognitive function. Sleep deprivation can even be potentially dangerous if your teen drives to school in the morning, she said.
7. Assess their sleeping.
While teens need more sleep, there’s no magic number. As with adults, teens vary in the number of hours they need compared with their peers.
One simple way to assess this is to see what time they naturally go to bed and wake up during the weekend, Silberman said. Then calculate the number of hours they slept. For instance, if they fell asleep at midnight and naturally woke up at 10 a.m., that means they need 10 hours of sleep and should aim for that number every night.
The National Foundation of Sleep has more pointers for parents to help their teens sleep well.
To learn more about sleep specialist and clinical psychologist Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D, and her work, please visit her website.