Teenagers are notorious for not sleeping enough during the school week, and then sleeping very late on the weekends. This can be disruptive to their sleep quality and patterns. However, I can truly understand why they do it; most teens are exhausted by the end of the week.
Not sleeping enough causes irritability, poor memory, depressed mood, affects eating patterns, is linked with use of caffeine and nicotine, and lowers immunity. The average teenager needs 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep every single night. Most are lucky if they get 8 hours. Part of the struggle is that in adolescence it is normal for the circadian rhythm (the body’s natural sleeping and waking pattern) to shift. Adolescents often cannot fall asleep until close to 11pm. However, most schools start before 8am. That means there isn’t even enough time to get proper sleep.
This will seem obvious, but it is worth mentioning. Things that can help your teen fall asleep earlier are keeping their room very dark at night, finishing dinner by 7pm, stopping homework and phone use by 8:30pm, and using the last half hour of the day to wind down. Do not let your teenager have a TV in their room, or let them play video games in their room. Those are two activities associated with mental alertness; their room needs to be associated with rest. Also, their bed needs to only be used for sleeping. A lot of teens like to do their homework on their bed, text while sitting on their bed, read on their bed, etc. Again, you want your child to mentally associate their bed with sleep. These are all things that can help you get your teen to bed by 9pm.
Initially you may experience resistance on the idea of an earlier bedtime. Try and explain the benefits. Tell your teenager that school becomes easier with more sleep. Tell them also that they will be healthier, have more energy, and get along better with family. For teens who struggle with their weight, explain to them that the proper amount of sleep is scientifically linked to a healthier body weight.
When a parent brings their teenager into counseling, one of the first things I check on is how much sleep the teen is getting. Many adolescents are brought in for depressed moods, irritability and low self-worth. Most of the kids who feel this way also are very short on sleep. Many of these kids sleep about 6 hours per night during the school week. Right away we agree on improving their sleep schedule. We move up their bedtime by a half hour each week until they are in bed with the lights out for 9 hours per night. In about 25% of cases, this is all the adolescent needs to feel completely better. In almost 100% of cases it helps the adolescent feel somewhat better.
After you read this take a few minutes to examine the sleep patterns in your family. Is everyone watching TV before bed? Are some members of the family texting until they fall asleep? Are your kids doing homework until 11pm? Are you having to wake your teenagers up two or three times every morning before they start getting ready for school? These are all signs of bad sleep hygiene (yes, that’s an actual term). Maybe if everyone works on it, the whole household will get along better.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT