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It’s no secret that a good night’s sleep is a recipe for success, but research shows that a majority of teens are not getting a full night’s sleep on the weeknights.
Therefore, there is a good chance that your teen is not getting the rest they need, which can hinder their performance in and out of school. There can be a lot of culprits behind this mass deprivation of sleep, so we’ve outlined five tips to address the most common causes of teen sleeplessness.
Screens before bed can interrupt sleep for a number of reasons. For one, the blue light emissions from screens can mimic daylight, which interferes with the release of melatonin, a chemical that is necessary for restful sleep. Many teenagers use their devices to unwind before bed, whether it’s texting friends, watching TV, or catching up with social media. These activities are pretty stimulating, which is another reason it can prevent the brain from entering a restful state.
There are a few ways you can help your teen reduce screen time before bed. One is to establish a family device charging area in the house, somewhere outside of the bedroom where everyone has to plug in their devices for the night so they aren’t tempted to stay up using them in bed. Another strategy is to install parental software that limits the amount of activity on your teen’s phone, possibly locking your teen out of certain apps past a certain hour.
A lot of teens stay up late because they have homework left unfinished, but sleep should take the priority over homework because studies show that even an hour of sleep less per night can result in losing an entire grade level.
It doesn’t make sense for your teen to put their health and performance at risk by losing sleep to get work done, as it will negatively impact their academics in the long run.
If your teen doesn’t get all of their work done by bedtime, we recommend making a rule that they have to go to bed anyway and deal with the natural consequences of not budgeting their time well. If your teen is so busy that they can’t balance homework on top of everything else, to the point of needing to stay up late to finish their work every night, we think they should cut back on their other obligations instead of sacrificing sleep. Alternatively, you could block out time with a tutor so they can get everything done during their tutor session and won’t have to work late at night. Homework is certainly a priority, but it’s not as important as sleep.
Your teen might be losing sleep because they have an inconsistent sleep schedule. If your teen stays up late and sleeps in late on the weekends or on vacation, it will make it harder for them to get to sleep on weeknights by an appropriate hour.
To avoid this issue, encourage your teen to go to sleep and wake up about the same time every day, regardless of school, so their body learns a natural schedule that it can stick to. It’s okay to be flexible and allow an extra hour here and there on the weekend, but any major deviations can have a devastating effect on their body’s ability to establish a reliable sleep routine.
Another way to help cue the body for rest is to use a nightly routine. Help your teen come up with bedtime ritual that they enjoy, but also helps them unwind.
Some suggestions we have are reading a book for an hour, taking a shower, or unplugging and listening to calming music just before bed. If your teen finds something relaxing to constitute their evening routine and sticks to it every night, the pattern will start to influence their sleepiness as their brain makes a connection between a certain behavior and the preparation for bed.
In this way, doing the nightly ritual will cue their brain to start releasing melatonin, allowing for quality rest more immediately.
Some teens run into trouble when they compensate for a bad night of sleep by using coffee or daytime naps because it interferes with their next night of sleep.
This creates a feedback loop, the more tired your teen is, the more coffee they drink or naps they take, which interrupts their ability to get to bed, and makes them more tired the next day. Clearly this is problematic, and the solution is to avoid naps and coffee as a regular solution to sleepiness. However, teens might not notice the cycle as their brains are still developing and not picking up on the best long term solutions.
If you can encourage your teen to tough out a day without these fixes, they will probably be very tired when it comes to bedtime and be able to catch up on any lost sleep that night.
Using these tips will help your teen stay well-rested, so they can do their best in school, feel energized, and make better decisions. The more consistently your teen sticks to these guidelines, the more effective they will be.
Turning tips into habits is the key to getting a good night’s sleep every night.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.
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