Teenagers need sleep. Despite what they may think, or what they may want, their brains and bodies are still growing and sleep is a key factor for successful growth. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need between eight and ten hours a day for optimal functioning. A new study published in the journal JAMA pediatrics shows that teens that get less than six hours of sleep a night are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.
"The study found these teens were more likely to use alcohol, tobacco and drugs," said Cindy Gellner, MD, a pediatrician with University of Utah Health. "They were also more likely to have suicidal thoughts and actually attempt suicide."
Parents may know their teens need more sleep than they are getting, but how do they get them to get the sleep they need? After all, they can't really put them in a crib anymore and wait for them to tire themselves out. They also know teens lead busy lives filled with school, homework, friends, and extracurricular activities. So, what is a parent to do?
"You may not be able to tuck them in any more, but you can help them by making them aware of what they need to have a healthy sleep routine," Gellner said. "Remember, part of being a parent is helping your child develop habits that they will continue into adulthood."
Talk About Sleep
Teens need to understand how important sleep is, and that their sleep habits are changing because of their growth. They may want to go to sleep later - but that means they need to sleep later as well. So, maybe they need to pick activities that allow them to do that. "For some teens that's not possible," said Gellner. "In those cases it's important for them to try and shift their sleep schedule so they are at least trying to get to sleep earlier."
You also should help your teen assess their sleep. Set up a sleep tracker either with an app or using a diary. Have them pay attention to what makes it easier or more difficult to fall asleep. "We all have very definite preferences when it comes to sleep," said Gellner. "If you identify them you can use them to help build good sleeping habits."
Create a Sleeping Space
Teens spend a lot of time in their rooms - and that may not be a good thing for optimal sleep. A bed should be used for sleep and sleep only. It shouldn't be seen as a place to surf the web, play video games, or engage in other activities.
It's important not only to designate a space for sleep, but an atmosphere as well. A sleeping space should be quiet with very little light. White noise could help, but try to get them to refrain from listening to music with lyrics. "If your teen is especially sensitive to noise get them some ear plugs," said Gellner.
Find a Sleep Routine
Routines can help in performing certain behaviors - like going to sleep. It's likely your child had a bedtime routine when they were young and now is the time to encourage them to form a new one. Maybe they need to take a bath to relax. Maybe they need to read for a few minutes. Maybe they need a moment to meditate or journal. One thing they don't need? Screen time.
"This time should be about winding down. Screens should go off at least 30 minutes before sleep," said Gellner. "You can help them do this by modeling thus behavior yourself. Bonus: you'll sleep better too."
Sleep routines should also include a wake time that is consistent even on the weekends. That means no sleeping until noon just because you can. It may be hard at first, but it will pay off with quality sleep through the week - not just on Saturday and Sunday.
Eat and Drink For Sleep
Teens are always hungry. Yes, they may have just had dinner a few hours ago, but growing bodies require a lot of calories and going to bed hungry can make sleep difficult. Give your teen a small snack of crackers, fruit, milk, or a cheese stick before bed. Just make sure they brush their teeth afterwards.
Teens should also avoid caffeine in the hours before they go to sleep. This doesn't just include coffee, sodas, and energy drinks, but also chocolate, and some medications. "Foods with large amounts of sugar should also be avoided," said Gellner. "You want to limit stimulants so that your teen is calm and in a state of mind AND body to get a good night's sleep."