Creating Healthy Sleep Habits for Teens
American culture does not value sleep. In fact, it almost seems a badge of honor to be slurping down coffee as you tell anyone who will listen how busy you are and how late you stayed up to get everything done. It’s no wonder then that our adolescents don’t seem to value sleep either.
Why is Sleep Important?
Both the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine agree that teens need between 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. When our adolescents get the correct amount of sleep they obtain numerous benefits including:
- improved attention and memory,
- sharper analytical thought,
- increased creativity, and
- improved immune function.
When teens don’t get enough sleep, they are more prone to:
- irritability and exaggerated emotional reactions,
- accidents and injuries,
- high-risk behaviors,
- poor decision-making, and
- negative health implications, such as weight gain, hypertension, depression, and increased pain.
Why Is It Hard for Teens To Get Good Sleep?
Several factors can contribute to sleep insufficiency among teens, and the reasons will vary for each individual. Reasons include:
- School start times don’t match the normal adolescent sleep cycle. During adolescence, there is a strong tendency toward staying up later at night and sleeping longer into the morning. If allowed to sleep on their own schedule, many teens would get eight hours or more per night, sleeping from 11 p.m. or midnight until 8 or 9 a.m., but school start times in most school districts force teens to wake up much earlier in the morning.
- Teens are overscheduled. High school students have jam-packed schedules. Between school assignments, work obligations, household chores, social life, community activities, and sports, many teens are too busy to allocate sufficient time for sleep.
- Electronic devices negatively impact our sleep patterns. Most teens are on their cell phones or tablets late into the night. This causes two problems. First, evidence suggests that the light from these devices suppress our bodies’ natural sleep hormone production. Second, many teens don’t want to miss anything on social media and will stay up too late to engage online or will allow notifications to interrupt their sleep.
- Mental health conditions can cause insomnia. Stress has long been known to interfere with our body’s ability to relax and fall asleep. With so many teens struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, achieving quality sleep can be a real challenge.
How Can Teens Get Better Sleep?
Parents need to talk with their teens about the importance of sleep and the do’s and don’t’s of healthy sleep hygiene. Suggest these healthy sleep tips:
- Plan eight hours of sleep into your daily schedule and keep a similar schedule on both weekdays and weekends.
- Create a consistent pre-bed routine to help with relaxation and falling asleep fast. This might include gentle stretching, deep breathing, listening to a sleep story, meditating, or reading a book.
- Avoid caffeine and energy drinks in the afternoon and evening.
- Put away electronic devices for at least 30 minutes before bed and keep them on silent mode to avoid checking them during the night.
- Make your sleeping environment comfortable. Your mattress and pillows should be supportive. Your bedroom should be dark and quiet at night. The temperature should be cool.
- Avoid overscheduling and commitments that generate stress.
- Plan ahead. Set up a schedule that doesn’t put off projects or schoolwork to the last minute.
We tend to avoid sleep in an effort to be productive. We delay our bedtimes to get more done. Ironically, studies show that we are more productive when we are well rested. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough sleep. It’s time we started valuing our body’s rest to maintain overall good health and wellness and that we instill that value into the next generation.