Ready for some big revelations when it comes to teen sleep? In this blog post we’re breaking down the top six factors affecting teen sleep and what you can do about it. First of all, we want to start by saying that parents should approach teen sleep just as you may have approached sleep when your kid was a baby or a toddler. Even as a teen, there are biological factors at play influencing sleep, and yes, your teen may need help learning how to self sooth before bed and even how to build good sleep habits.
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One of the biggest barriers to helping teens get the sleep they need is often their parents! We know it can be frustrating to try and drag your teen out of bed for school, but we really believe that when you take the time to learn more about teens and sleep, both you and the teenagers living in your house will be that much happier.
What Parents Need To Know About Teen Sleep
From changes in their biology to understanding that technology is a big part of their world, let’s take a closer look at the top influences that can be affecting your teen’s quantity and quality of sleep.
1 – There’s A Change In Hormones And Biological Clock.
It’ll be no surprise to hear that your teen is dealing with changing hormones. However, with those changes also comes a natural shift in their biological clock where their circadian rhythm wants to stay up late and sleep in late. By simply understanding that your teen’s body is pushing them into this schedule, you can work with them to fall asleep at a reasonable hour and wake up a bit easier on days where they need to be up early for school or work. As with any changes relating to development and hormones, this may start to affect your child’s sleep as a tween, or may not become a bigger issue until they’re in high school.
2 – Blue Light.
Remember when the sun used to make it hard for your little one to go to bed at night or stay asleep past six in the morning? When we’re talking teen sleep, it’s not sunlight that’s causing havoc, but blue light emitted from phones, tablets and computers. Kids have very sensitive melanopsin cells that react to blue light emitted from screens which essentially works to turn off the release of melatonin. Think about that for a minute – when your teen is on a screen before bed, it’s actually telling their body that it’s not time for sleep at all! While we’ll talk more about reducing screens before bed a bit later, here’s what you can do to help with regards to blue light:
- Install flu.x on laptops. Using this tool, you can change the colour temperature of the light that’s being emitted. Note that reducing the brightness on your laptop is not the same thing and actually does nothing to reduce the blue light emissions.
- Use blue light blocking glasses. Get your teen to start wearing them from about 8 PM onward.
- Put Good Night light bulbs in bedside table lamps that filter out blue light.
- Add Awake & Alert bulbs in the bathroom that actually emit more blue light to help teens wake up in the mornings.
3 – Misuse Of Melatonin.
Very, very rarely do children or teens have a melatonin deficiency. This means that if they’re having trouble sleeping, it’s not because they need more melatonin. There’s something else at play that’s disrupting their sleep. Before you give your teen melatonin, you should be aware of the following:
- Melatonin is not an herb or a mineral, it’s a hormone. At high doses, it’s a contraceptive. Ask yourself, is this really something your teenage daughter or son needs to ingest?
- Melatonin is not a sleep initiator, but a sleep regulator. It’s doesn’t work to make you sleepy.
- Dosage is most often incorrect on the bottles you buy at the store and it’s not accurately known what the best dosage is to give kids and teens.
4 – Napping Is Okay.
Parent’s need to play this one by ear, as in some cases, your teen may have trouble falling asleep at night if they nap too much or too often. But in most cases, it’s okay for teens to sleep after school. Most will still be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Teens need a lot of sleep, and as mentioned, because they usually have to get up so early – which goes against their natural circadian rhythm at this age – a nap can make them more agreeable to deal with (hallelujah!) and allow them to tackle homework or other activities with more energy and focus.
5 – They Need A Bedtime Routine.
As your child gets older, the focus on a bedtime routine falls away. You’re no longer an active participant in getting them ready for bed and reading to them, and over time the intentional and purposeful bedtime routine gets dropped. Help them reinstate a “Slow Down Cycle” to help them power down. An hour before bedtime, get them to give this a try:
- Take the first 20 minutes and get organized for the next day.
- Take the second 20 minutes and get ready for bed.
- Take the last 20 minutes and relax – try meditation, stretching, listening to music, etc.
6 – The Screen Time Cycle.
This one’s a doozy, right parents? We’ve already talked about blue light, but in this case we mean the use of screen time and what it does in terms of stimulation and cortisol production. Screens can make teens feel excited, stressed, anxious, sad – just about every emotion you can think of. And what’s even more alarming is that they’re using that stimulation to jolt themselves awake after a poor night’s sleep or when they’re feeling down.
And when they don’t feel great in the morning, guess what they reach for? Screen stimulation. Their tired out brain and exhausted mental state needs a boost of blue light to perk them up. They may feel like they have energy and don’t need to sleep, but in fact, they’re stuck in a technology trap that they most likely can’t get out of on their own.
The stimulation that’s experienced as a result of screen time unfortunately results in a rebound effect, which typically leads to a vicious, sleep deprived cycle. A teen who spends a great deal of time in front of technology before bed will stop being able to recognize that they’re tired and instead get really wired. When teens have technology in their bedrooms and experience that jolt of stimulation late into the night, they experience low quality sleep paired with frequent night wakings. If you’re often faced with a grumpy and irritable kid in the morning who is losing focus at school and starting to act out uncharacteristically, it’s time to take a hard look at what technology is doing to their sleep.
Here’s where to start:
- Keep devices out of the bedroom and support a conducive sleep environment. This is a top priority for protecting your teen’s sleep.
- Build a healthy screen time plan for your family. Check out Better Screen Time for some great resources.
- Talk to your teen about the difference in screen time – consumption versus creating. Try and move them away from just sitting and consuming screen time, to actively using it to learn or master something like editing photos, coding, or creative writing.
- Have an open conversation about technology limits. Teenage girls in particular often report feeling relieved when limits are enforced so that they have an out when it comes to keeping up with late night text threads or social media engagement. The reduction in anxiety and in sleep distractions can make a drastic change in how well your teen is sleeping.
- Look into using an app or a router that can set limits or curfews by turning off wi-fi at a certain time.
Parents With Teens – Here’s What YOU Need To Do
Let’s be honest, sometimes we have our own issues with putting screens down and going to bed at a reasonable hour instead of watching another hour of Netflix. If you really want your teens to value and understand the importance of sleep and practice what you preach, you have to model the way.
We’ll leave you with one last tip – take turns waiting up for your teen. All of a sudden their bedtime and social life runs later than yours and that can be exhausting! Just like when your kids were little, take turns rotating who’s going to be up that night – at least in this case, your teens won’t be waking you up at the crack of dawn!
When it comes down to it, your teenager is really still a child. As such, it’s your job as a parent to recognize the signs that they may not be getting the sleep they need and do what you can to help them get back on the right well rested path.