4 Steps for a Healthy Teen Sleep Schedule
It’s getting worse; you practically have to drag your teen out of bed every morning to get them ready for the day. On the drive to school, they’re practically a zombie, and it’s hardly any better once they get home. They’re distractible, aloof, and it’s hard to get them to engage in conversation. Some of their teachers have even told you they’ve been drifting off in class and their performance is slacking. What’s going on?
Well, chances are, it has something to do with your teen’s sleep schedule. The most current and trusted studies have proven a physically and mentally healthy teen needs to get around eight hours of sleep each night in order to feel rested and operate at 100% capacity. The trouble is, once a teen’s sleep schedule is out of whack, it’s hard to get them back on track! Even if they “go to bed” around ten or eleven, it might be hours before they actually fall asleep.
It’s important for you and your teen to work together to understand the consequences of a poor night’s sleep and set routines that help them get all the rest they need. Here are some great ways to help your teen create a healthy sleep schedule so they can be healthier and happier!
Reduce Screen Time
With so much research on the impact of screen time and social media on teens over the past decade, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that staring at a phone, laptop, or tablet screen late at night makes it harder to fall asleep. Blue light from the screen actually tricks our minds into thinking it’s still daytime. We might know it’s time for bed, but the blue light restricts our body chemistry from producing melatonin (the hormone responsible for controlling the sleep cycle).
With this in mind, it’s smart not to let teenagers look at their phone or computer screens for up to an hour before their bedtime. This will help them fall asleep much quicker and prime their brains for rest.
Get a Good Book
Many teens will be reluctant to give up their phones even for just a little bit. The world is so saturated with content that the minute a teen feels bored, they’ll often go to their phone to fill the time. However, it’s crucial not to let them do this before bed. Instead, provide them with some other form of nighttime entertainment, like a book.
There are plenty of good teen books to choose from, ranging in genre from fantasy to drama and everything in between. This will keep your teen occupied in the time leading up to sleep, and the mental work it takes to red will also make your teen sleepy! Many adults know the benefits of reading just before bed, and it’s a great idea for teens, too.
Create a Bedtime Routine
There’s almost nothing more helpful to get ready for bed than having a constant set of bedtime rituals. Repeating the same actions and activities before bedtime each night will condition your teen’s brain to know when to go to bed. For the last thirty minutes to one hour of your teen’s day, create a list of relaxing things to do that will prime their mind for bed.
At 9:15, maybe they take a warm shower and change into their PJs. Then maybe they read their book or do some puzzles in bed, brush their teeth, and head to sleep. What they actually do doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they have a setlist of tasks each night before they go to bed (tasks that don’t involve screens!).
No Napping, No Coffee
Everybody knows that three o’clock feeling. Your feet start to drag, your eyes get heavy, the yawns come in droves, and nothing sounds better than crawling under the covers for a quick power nap. Teens feel it, too. But while many adults can have a second (or third) cup of coffee to give them a boost, it’s important for teens to ride this feeling out to set a good sleep schedule.
There’s nothing wrong with teens having a lazy Sunday morning or a Saturday afternoon siesta, but mid-week it’s important for them to minimize naps and abstain from caffeine. Napping in the afternoon or consuming too many caffeinated drinks will make it harder for them to fall asleep at night and perpetuate a poor sleep schedule. If you notice your teen getting drowsy in the afternoon, try giving them active tasks to complete, like chores. Your teen might be reluctant at first, but they’ll thank you when they fall asleep with no trouble that night.
Getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done, but these tried and tested techniques are a great starting point for any teen who’s sleep schedule is negatively impacting their social life, academic performance, or mental health. Remember, consistency is key, and working together to create a set of bedtime routines will help your teen more than you think!
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.