Guest blog post written by: Sara Westgreen
How many times did you have to wake up your teen this morning? Two, three, four times?
My 15-year-old’s alarm went off for a solid half hour before I got him to roll out of bed — and I know I’m not the only mom of teenagers dealing with similar struggles. Teen sleep can be frustrating and difficult to understand. Teens often get inadequate sleep during the week, then sleep in late on the weekends. Typically, this is due to a shift in biological patterns and school start times.
How Much Sleep Are Teens Getting?
Teens need at least eight hours of sleep each night, but two out of three U.S. high school students sleep less than eight hours on school nights. Younger students need at least nine hours of sleep at night.
When teens don’t get enough sleep, there are serious consequences. Sleep-deprived teens are more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms, perform poorly in school, engage in unhealthy risk behaviors, not get enough physical activity, and be overweight.
Why Teens Can’t Sleep
Teens often struggle to get enough sleep — and it’s not just because they want to stay up late texting.
When teens go through puberty, they experience a circadian rhythm shift. When their circadian rhythm shifts, they have a hard time going to sleep at 8 or 9 p.m. and instead feel sleepy at 10 or 11 p.m. Some teens find it physically impossible to sleep before 10 or 11 p.m.
While teens are naturally going to sleep later than they did as younger children, school start times don’t change. In five out of six U.S. middle schools and high schools, the school day starts before 8:30 a.m. For a teen that goes to sleep at 11 p.m., and needs at least an hour to wake up, get ready, eat, and get to school, there are just over eight and a half hours left to sleep. That’s cutting it too close to reliably have enough time available to sleep eight hours each night.
In addition to biological changes, teens often have busy schedules and active social lives. School activities, work, and time with friends may feel more important than sleep. And with so much to do, teens may find that there just isn’t enough time to do everything they want to and still get enough sleep.
How You Can Help Your Teen Get Enough Sleep
Streamline their morning routine. Teens often struggle to go to sleep at a decent hour, but they still have to wake up on time for school. Help them use that time at night when they’re up to make the morning easier, so they can sleep in just a little longer in the morning. Encourage them to pack their lunch, pick out clothes, and shower at night, so there’s less to do in the morning. Plan breakfasts that are quick and easy to grab so they can eat well without spending a lot of time on breakfast.
Maintain healthy sleep habits. Help teens maintain a regular sleep schedule and consistent bedtime routine with relaxing activities at night. Encourage them to avoid sleep pitfalls, including consuming caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, and screen time just before bed. Help them plan their schedule so they can complete studying and other intense mental activities earlier in the day, leaving relaxing activities for late at night.
Create a healthy sleep environment. Teens need a good sleep environment to support a good night of sleep. Make sure their mattress appropriately fits their needs. Keep their bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, using a fan, white noise machine, and blackout curtains if needed.
Encourage teens to nap if needed. With busy schedules, there just isn’t always enough time to sleep at night. Teens can supplement nighttime sleep with naps during the day. However, naps should be strategic and kept under an hour. Your teen should avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening, which can interfere with getting to bed at night.