Helping Teens Get the Sleep They Need
No other age group suffers from lack of sleep quite like teenagers. This is for several reasons. First, they usually start school much earlier than younger kids. Second, they are older and more independent, which means they have more control over when they go to bed and actually fall asleep. Third, they have a lot more going on that can keep them occupied and distracted at night. Finally, for reasons not entirely known, puberty interrupts the pattern and architecture of sleep.
“Today’s teenagers are the most sleep-deprived bunch I’ve seen in years,” says Cornell University psychology professor Dr. James B. Maas, author of Power Sleep. “The competitive pressures have skyrocketed past anything their parents ever felt. They get more hours of homework and juggle more advanced courses, extracurricular activities and after-school jobs. And the temptations for distraction are greater too. Their parents didn’t have Facebook or cell phones competing for their time 24/7. It’s not surprising that teens think sleep is a luxury – and not the necessity that it is.” (Rosen, 2010)
“If your child is moody, sullen, or unfocused,” adds Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the sleep center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,” don’t always blame it on teen angst.” (ibid) These are often the signs of sleep loss. If your child is one of these walking zombies, here are some tips to help them adopt better sleep habits.
Tips for improving a teen’s sleep habits
- Teenagers should learn why sleep is such a priority. They need to view it as just as important to their welfare as you do. So to that end, don’t just tell them they need more sleep. Explain why. Share research with them on the effects of sleep deprivation. Especially helpful are studies that have linked lack of sleep with things like premature aging, bad skin and complexion (they don’t call it “beauty sleep” without reason), and poorer sports performance … the type of things teens care about. Google these terms, and you can find plenty of research papers.
- Try setting aside one week in which you set your clocks back one hour each day so that your teen gets extra sleep. It may demonstrate how much better sleep can make them feel.
- Most teens are in dire need of a wind-down ritual, but aren’t likely to institute one on their own. You need to help them develop one. Ask for their input in selecting a ritual to power down for the night, and then hold them to it.
- “You can’t make a teen sleep,” says Dr. Helens Emsellem, medical director for the Center for Sleep & Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “But you can tune in to his schedule and find ways to help him develop, and maintain, healthy sleep habits.” (Rosen, 2010) Sit down together and try to chart how much sleep they are getting, and agree on ways you can bring this more in line with what it should be.
- Help him keep his room clean and uncluttered. The subconscious cues that a messy environment sends can interfere with sleep.
- Check out our information in our Family Sleep Handbook on Sleep Problems, which contains more adult-oriented sleep tips for the entire family.