August 20, 2017 —
Not yet adults, pre-teens and teens are at critical ages for developing healthy sleep habits. At this stage in life, our kids often have a variety of intense physical and mental demands that rely on getting enough quality sleep. Factors that make it difficult for them to sleep well include busy schedules, early school start times and even shifts in hormones and their circadian rhythm.
Teens perform best when they get at least nine hours of sleep each night, but this rarely happens. In high school, almost 90% of teens don't get enough sleep on school nights. Pre-teens may need even more sleep, approximately 10 - 11 hours depending on their age.
When pre-teens and teens don't get enough sleep, there can be consequences. Those with poor sleep habits are at an increased risk for accidents, obesity, anxiety and depression. Without enough sleep, teens can also experience mood swings and struggle to perform their best at school, in sports, at home or even while driving.
There are many things that can cut into a teen’s sleep time, such as homework, extracurriculars, family responsibilities and social activities. Sometimes these factors are beyond you or your child's control. However, there are steps you can take to help them get as much sleep as possible and ensure that sleep is restorative.
- DO set limits on screen time. Screens signal to the brain that it's daytime and time to be awake. Encourage your teen to avoid screen time during the hour before bed and don't allow screens in their bedroom.
- DO create a healthy sleep environment. Make their room cool, dark and comfortable. Help them choose an appropriate mattress and bedding that will help make the most of their sleep hours. Consider picking out a white noise machine or blackout curtains. Don't allow them to do homework or other activities in bed, as their bed should be strongly associated with sleep and not with other activities.
- DO help your teen create a balanced schedule. It's easy for pre-teens and teens to become overcommitted with school, sports, chores, social activities, hobbies and part-time jobs. Work with your teen to create a schedule that is manageable and leaves enough time for rest; dropping activities if necessary.
- DO encourage your teen to maintain healthy sleep habits. Maximize your teen's sleep quality with healthy sleep habits. Help them transition into bedtime easier by establishing and maintaining a regular sleep routine, such as brushing teeth and reading before bed. Help your teen maintain a consistent bedtime and avoid physical activity right before bed (although exercise during the day can help lead to restful sleep).
- DON’T use cough and cold medicines for sleep. Some of these medicines can have a sedating effect, which could tempt you to use them to help your pre-teen or teen get a good night's sleep. However, they should not be used for this purpose. It’s important to teach children that medicines should only be used as directed to treat specific symptoms. Not only is it important to lead by example to prevent your teen from misusing or abusing medicines, using medicine in this way can hinder your teen’s ability to develop healthy sleep habits naturally.
- DON’T force your teen to go to bed early. Around the time puberty hits, teens experience a shift in their circadian rhythm. This shift pushes their natural bedtime back by an hour or more. Children who used to be sleepy around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. may not be ready for bed until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. once they hit their teenage years. This can make getting a full night of sleep difficult if they must wake up early in the morning for school. However, having them go to bed when they are not biologically ready to do so can make things worse, as they will lie awake and feel frustrated about sleep. Instead, encourage them to go to bed when they feel sleepy and focus on helping them make the most of their sleep time.
Have you tried any of these tips with your teen? Do you have other tips of your own to share? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on. You can connect with Tuck.com on Facebook and Twitter.