Sleep is one of those topics that I’m constantly asked about: How do I get my kids to sleep better? How do I prioritize sleep? How much sleep do kids need? What about naps? The folks over at Tuck.com spend a lot of time thinking about sleeping and share some of their wisdom in this guest post.

Dragging a teen out of bed every morning probably isn’t how you’d like to start your day. However, if that’s your reality, you’re not alone. Teens are infamous for being difficult to wake in the morning, and scientists have found that waking up in the morning is harder for teens. The combination of physical, academic, and social changes they face makes it hard to get the full eight to ten hours of sleep they need to function at their best. But, you can make a difference by modeling good sleep patterns and encouraging your teen to develop the habits that support better sleep.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Why worry about getting more sleep? It affects all aspects of your teen’s life including her health. Sleep deprivation affects short-term memory, reasoning ability, decision-making skills, and emotional control. The immune system suffers when teens less sleep, leaving sleep-deprived kids more susceptible to illness. Plus, the illnesses they get tend to last longer. Lack of sleep puts teens at higher risk for diabetes and obesity because their ability to control appetite goes down. As the amount of sleep goes down, the more visible and harmful the effects become. Teens find themselves at greater risk for sleep deprivation for three main reasons.

A Shift in the Sleep-Wake Cycle

The sleep-wake cycle is controlled by a complex series of psychological and biological processes that work on a regular 24-hour cycle called circadian rhythms. During elementary school, circadian rhythms make children feel tired around 8 or 9 pm. However, changes in an adolescent body shift the sleep cycle two hours later so your child may not feel tired until 10 or 11 pm. This fundamental shift takes place when your teen is going through some other significant changes like early school start times.

Early Start Times

Around the same time your child notices a shift in their sleep cycle, she enters junior high or high school, both of which often have the earliest start times in a school district. Many schools start at 7:30 am or earlier. The combination of sleep phase delay and early start times leaves many sleep-deprived kids at a disadvantage. Schools that have experimented with later start times for teens report an increase in academic performance, student behavior, and lower instances of vehicle accidents.

Busy Teen Schedules

Many teens perform a juggling act between school, part-time employment, extracurricular activities, family obligations, and a social life. In an increasingly connected world, teens face more pressure to perform than ever before. Academically, socially, and personally their lives are often open to the world through social media. Not only can a full schedule keep them from getting to bed on time but the stress of keeping up with their lives may leave them awake at night.

teen studyingWhen you step back and take a look, it’s no wonder teens can’t sleep with the many challenges they face. But, you can help your teen by encouraging her to get the rest she needs and discussing what she can do to get more sleep.

Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits

You’re never to young or old to establish healthy sleep habits. Start by taking a look in your child’s bedroom. Beds should have a firm mattress with a foundation or box spring. The room should be as uncluttered as possible. At night, make the bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool with the temperature set between 60-68 degrees. Beyond improving the conditions in the room, parents can help model and encourage habits that lead to more high-quality sleep like:

  • A Bedtime Routine: Your teen might think she’s too old for a bedtime routine, but a routine serves to establish healthy circadian rhythms. The body loves routine and responds by releasing sleep hormones at the same time each day.
  • Turning Off Screens: Blue light emitted from televisions, smartphones, and e-readers suppress melatonin, which delays the sleep cycle. Turning off screens at least an hour before bed can help your teen fall asleep faster.
  • Keeping a Consistent Bed and Wake Time: The body loves routine, remember? Teens may have a tough time keeping a regular schedule because their extracurricular activities or social life may change from day to day. However, you can encourage her to go to bed at the same time as often as possible, including on weekends.
  • Regular Exercise: If your teen isn’t tired at night, she may need to be more active during the day. Physical exercise makes the mind and body feel tired.
  • Avoiding Stimulants: The caffeine found in energy drinks, coffee, and soda block sleep hormones for hours. Try to stop the stimulants at least four hours before bed. Some kids may need to limit their caffeine intake even earlier because changes in the adolescent body make some teens more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than adults.

About the Author

Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.