Note from Daniel: This is a guest post by Sarah Cummings.
Does your teen get enough sleep?
Scientists recommend that teens get more sleep per night than adults, but many of them get less.
In fact, around 85% of teens are sleep deprived.
As parents, we should take this fact seriously, because sleep is important for physical health, brain function and learning.
So here are 10 tips for parents to help teens get a better night’s sleep…
1. Respect your teens’ different rhythms
Teens experience a shift in their circadian rhythms, because of a delayed release of melatonin compared to adults.
Because of this shift, they may not get sleepy until later than you do.
Based on their natural circadian rhythm, they might not go to bed until midnight. If they get the full dose of their recommended hours in, this will cause them to sleep in until 9 am or 10 am.
Of course, this sleep schedule doesn’t work during school days. So they’ll need to shift their sleep schedule gradually – which is what we’ll talk about next.
2. Establish a routine
Talk to your teens and create a routine that you’re both agreeable to.
If your teens are sleeping too late on school nights, the changes need to be made little by little.
If they’re used to going to bed at 1 am, they won’t suddenly be able to fall asleep at 9:30 pm.
As such, you can try to shift their bedtime forward gradually, e.g. 10 minutes earlier each day.
Once your teens are going to bed at the ideal time, try to ensure that they stick to this bedtime during the week and on weekends, too (or as close to it as possible).
This way, their sleeping patterns won’t be affected too much.
If your teens don’t sleep enough on weekdays, they’ll accumulate “sleep debt”. This will make them more likely to break out in pimples, since insufficient sleep is linked to acne and other forms of skin irritation.
Furthermore, the more sleep debt they accumulate, the more likely they are to fall victim to a long list of health problems.
3. Have a grown-up discussion with your teens
All this talk of bedtimes can be dangerous territory.
Your teens might think that you’re being overbearing or naggy, or that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
But it’s important that your teens know just how crucial sleep is to their health and wellbeing.
They should know what constitutes a great sleep, what can result in a bad one, and what measures they can take to sleep well on a consistent basis.
You could use your own experience as a starting point. For instance, you could mention how you couldn’t concentrate at work because you slept badly the previous night.
You could also subtly draw their attention to articles on the link between screen time and sleep deprivation.
Or you could express your concerns that they’re not sleeping enough, without lecturing or nagging them.
Ask them what they think might be the cause of it, and ask them what solutions they might have.
Allow them to take ownership of the situation, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
4. Move electronic devices out of the bedroom
To promote a more relaxing, nurturing sleep environment for your teens, TVs, laptops, phones and tablets should ideally be kept out of the bedroom.
The blue light that these devices emit hinders the body’s natural production of melatonin, which is the hormone that affects our sleep cycles.
When there’s less melatonin in the body, it’s harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
This explains why teens shouldn’t have screens in their bedrooms.
But how should you introduce this “screen detox”?
Turn it into a family activity.
Tell your teens that you’ll be taking part in the screen detox as well, and share with them how it will be hard for you too.
If they aren’t open to this idea, implement it gradually.
You could start with just one day a week, and increase it by one day each week.
5. Use technology as an aid
I know I just said that screen time isn’t good – especially not when it’s close to bedtime. So hear me out.
There are some great apps out there that can reduce the harmful effects of blue light.
This means that screen time won’t have the same damaging effect as in the case that these apps or features aren’t activated.
The good news is that they’re all available for free!
6. Introduce sleep-promoting foods
You’re probably aware that drinking a can of Coke or a cup of coffee before bed isn’t good for your sleep.
But in addition to cutting out caffeine at least six hours before bed, there are sleep-promoting foods you can bring to the kitchen table, which will help your teens’ minds and bodies to relax.
Snacks like magnesium-rich bananas and almonds promote feelings of calmness, and are natural muscle relaxants.
Also, a teaspoon of turmeric mixed with ginger, lemon juice and hot water reduces blood sugar levels. It also helps to prevent sleep disturbances during the night.
For a delicious snack that won’t lead to a sugar rush, try blending a frozen banana with a spoon of almond butter.
In my opinion, this tastes almost as good as ice cream! Plus, it helps you to get a better night’s sleep.
7. Take a holistic approach
If your teens still can’t settle down at night, it may be because of the anxiety that forms such a significant part of the teenage years.
If they’re already worried about not getting enough sleep, your added worrying won’t help the situation.
Try and introduce some calming elements into the evenings.
For example, you can give your teens lavender oil to sprinkle on their pillow (one or two drops is enough), or you can light some incense around the house.
Keep lighting in the house dim after dinner. In addition, if your teens want to listen to music at night, encourage them to listen to soft, relaxing music.
By putting these tips into practice, your teens will find that come bedtime, their mind is already at peace. This will make it more likely that they’ll have a good sleep.
8. Introduce your teens to deep breathing exercises
It’s never too early to start taking care of your physical and mental health.
While many adults today know the benefits of deep breathing exercises, most teens have yet to try them out.
This is unfortunate, because teens will definitely benefit from such deep breathing exercises.
If your teens are sleep deprived, introduce them to deep breathing exercises. These exercises only take a few minutes to do, and can be a useful inclusion in your teens’ pre-bedtime routine.
Try them out for yourself first to see how the exercises enable you to relieve stress and sleep better!
9. Help your teens get as much natural light during the day as possible
Research shows that exposure to natural light during the day leads to more restful sleep at night.
In particular, morning light helps to regulate your circadian rhythm.
By opening the curtains or pulling the blinds during the day, your teens will sleep better at night.
Encourage your teens to get 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight each day, because this is especially useful in regulating their biological clock.
As with all things, your teens will take time to adjust to these changes. But if you talk to them about the benefits and implement the changes incrementally, they’ll be more receptive over time.
10. Set an example for your teens
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
This may sound like a cheesy quote to you, but it contains much wisdom.
If you want your teens to develop healthy sleep patterns, you need to set an example.
If you’re staying up until 1 am every day because you’re working your way through the latest Netflix drama, that’s not a good example for your teens.
But if you’re getting to bed at a reasonable hour and rising early, feeling refreshed… your teens will be more likely to follow suit.
You won’t even need to lecture them, because it will be obvious that your habits are helping you to stay in excellent physical health.
Getting enough sleep is important at every stage of life.
No matter our age, sleep affects our mood, relationships and health.
For teens, the quantity and quality of sleep they get can make puberty tolerable or unbearable.
I trust that the tips in this article will help both you and your teens to sleep better in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Before long, your teens will take responsibility for their sleep, knowing the measures they ought to take to get the sleep they need.
May your teens – and your whole family – lead healthier and happier lives as a result!
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Sarah Cummings is the mum of one very energetic 8-year-old and one fiercely independent teenager. When she has the time to (occasionally) relax, she can be found walking her dog Bones on Venice Beach, listening to Miles Davis on repeat, or napping – she loves her sleep, after all!