You might not be surprised to learn that being a sleep-deprived teen is very common, but you might not know that the average teen needs a bit over nine hours of sleep each night. With school starting early in the morning in most areas, it might be nearly impossible for your adolescent to get that much sleep on a regular basis. A sleep-deprived teen might be moody and might have trouble managing all of his or her obligations. There are some things you can do to help your teen; here are the top 9.
#1 Concerns About Your Sleep-Deprived Teen
Your teen might not realize that he or she is operating on a sleep deficit. Since adults are encouraged to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, your adolescent might assume that the same applies to them. A teen who needs to get up at 6:00 am for school, therefore, might think it’s perfectly fine to go to bed at 11:00 pm (or later), not realizing that his or her body really needs more shut-eye than that. Simply letting your teen know that they need more sleep might be enough to encourage them to turn in a bit earlier.
#2 Enforce a Reasonable Bedtime
If your teen, particularly if he or she is a younger teen, is not voluntarily going to bed at a reasonable hour, you can set and enforce a reasonable bedtime. Just as you would set a curfew for your teen, you can have a “lights out” time. Be prepared to meet some resistance against this idea, but if you’ve decided that a bedtime is necessary, then stick to your guns. For the teen who gets up at 6:00 am, a 9:00 pm bedtime might be too early, but you can meet in the middle and insist on lights being off at 10:00, which will probably lead to your teen falling asleep by 10:30. This will usually allow enough time for homework, extracurricular activities, dinner, and some socialization.
#3 Disable the Internet After a Certain Time
One reason that it is easy to be a sleep-deprived teen is that many of them stay up into the wee hours texting on their phones, surfing the internet, and playing video games. It is perfectly reasonable to set offline hours, when phones get charged in a common area, such as the kitchen, and computers get turned off for the night. Not having devices in the bedrooms (yours included!) can lead to better quality sleep as well as more sleep, and turning off your wifi router can have other positive health effects, too.
#4 Allow Them to Catch Up in the Afternoons and on Weekends
It’s not realistic for most teenagers to get their full 9 hours of sleep every night during the school year, so be prepared for them to catch up on the weekends. You can also encourage your exhausted teenager to take a short nap in the afternoon. One caveat: Sleeping for more than 30 minutes or so in the afternoon can make it harder to fall asleep at night, creating a vicious cycle. Tell your teen the benefits of 20-minute power naps and encourage them to try to sneak in a little catnap after school if they aren’t getting enough sleep at night.
#5 Encourage Them to Get Enough Exercise
Daily exercise can keep your teen on a better sleep schedule. In addition to the physical benefits, exercise also provides some mental health benefits. Your teen will enjoy better sleep not only because they are more physically tired but also because they are able to set their anxieties and worries aside thanks to the increased physical activity. If your teen isn’t involved in a sport or taking P.E. at school, an evening walk with you will often do the trick.
#6 Allow Them to Say No to Extras
Some adolescents are not getting enough sleep because they are simply extending themselves too far. If your teen is taking several honors or AP classes at school, working part-time, playing a sport, and volunteering on the weekends, it’s natural that they are ready to drop at the end of the day. Not only that, but they might be staying up late to do homework or to simply spend some time relaxing since they didn’t have time earlier in the day. Ask them if they’d like to drop one or more of those heavy obligations so they can take more time for themselves.
#7 Introduce Your Teen to Relaxation Methods
If your teen is having trouble falling asleep, relaxation methods like meditation or guided imagery might help. There are many audio files available online and videos on YouTube and similar sites that can help your teen relax and fall asleep. They might also enjoy breathing exercises or yoga. Learning how to relax will not only help facilitate better sleep but will also help your teen beat stress and anxiety.
#8 Try Natural Remedies to Beat Insomnia
Make sure your teen’s bedroom is cool enough, but not too cold; sleeping in a room that is too warm or very cold can cause insomnia and night-waking. A cup of warm milk or chamomile tea can help your teen drift off more easily. The routine of a hot bath or shower will also often make your teen sleepy enough to fall asleep without a problem, as will comfortable pajamas. He or she might like white noise like a fan running; on the other hand, silence might be preferred. Ask them whether they’d like a nightlight, too. All of these factors can lead to better sleep.
#9 Seek Professional Help
If you have a sleep-deprived teen there could be a physical or mental health issue interfering. Anxiety and depression can both cause insomnia, for example. Depression can also cause a teen to feel exhausted even after getting plenty of sleep. Vitamin deficiencies can cause fatigue, too. If your teen is waking frequently or not feeling well-rested, nightmares, sleepwalking, or sleep apnea might be to blame. Talk to your teen’s doctor about screening him or her for these types of issues and, if necessary, referring you to a mental health or sleep specialist for additional help.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.