Your teenager is going through some radical changes, and it can be challenging, as parents, to know how to guide and support them properly. In this article, you will find 5 myths about teen sleep and how to help them get better sleep.
Sleep deprivation in teens
One of the biggest challenges as parents, is helping your teens get the right amount of sleep. Social pressures, early school starts, and technology within arm’s reach at all times can all cut into sleep time, leading to teenagers suffering from sleep deprivation. The result, says Licensed Professional Counselor Carolina Pena*, can be depression, or worse. By not teaching teens healthy sleep habits, she says, “we are not helping our kids’ development and growth. Whenever you don’t sleep, there’s more depression and more impulsive behaviors.”
Learning good sleep hygiene as a teen leads to healthier habits as adults, and supports emotional wellbeing, mental health, and even physical development.
Your Rockin’ Blinks Cheat Sheet: to help your teen get good sleep
- According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need 8-10 hours of sleep every night to support their brain development, mental health and wellbeing.
- A lack of sleep affects your mood negatively, which can be even more noticeable in teens who already struggle with hormones and a range of external pressures.
- Cut down on caffeine to promote earlier nights.
- Screen time disrupts sleep, so encourage teens to switch devices off before bed and, if possible, keep them out of the bedroom.
Sleep Cycle vs School Routine
Teenagers need plenty of sleep at this time in their lives, when their bodies and brains are developing and changing every day. Teens generally have a later sleep cycle, which means they want to go to bed later and get up later. This is because their circadian rhythm and melatonin production has not yet settled into an “adult” pattern. Despite this, most American schools open at 8am. This makes it difficult to help your teen get the sleep they need.
Many experts advocate for a later start time for schools, with some evidence pointing to improved student scores at schools that have adopted this approach.
The Dangers of Teen Sleep Deprivation
Lack of sleep can affect the human body worse than alcohol. This leads to:
- Problems in focusing, Not being able to focus can have academic repercussions, such as not being able to study for exams, or getting into trouble at school or college for not “paying attention.
- Lack of motor skills, and a greater risk of injury or accident.
Some teens are susceptible to mental health problems, including suicide ideation and even suicide attempts. An AAP study showed that teen suicide rates rose during the pandemic, and it’s alarming to know that teens who sleep for either unusually short or unusually long periods of time are at higher risk of suicidal thoughts.
How to Help Build Healthy Sleep Habits
Even teens who had healthy sleep routines as younger children may find themselves restless and unable to fall asleep at the “right” time as they get older. While you can’t control what time school opens, you can help them build some healthy sleep habits that will last them into adulthood. Part of supporting teen sleep is breaking down the myths that surround teen sleep.
Teen Sleep Myths:
Teenagers have the same self-control as adults, they’re just rebellious.
Your teen isn’t a natural rebel, despite how often it may feel that way! It may be reassuring to know that, for many teens, self-control and self-regulation is actually extremely difficult.
What you can do: Ask what support your teen needs. Can you help them create a sleep schedule that works for them? Can you hold onto their cell phone until the morning? Find out what their biggest challenge is with letting go of the day and support them in that. Look into mindfulness apps or relaxation techniques.
Screen time is inevitable and won’t cause any real damage.
Social media is a dominant force in teens’ lives, which is just one reason they’re constantly on their devices. They’re connected to friends, education, entertainment, and even work through their cell phones, tablets, and consoles. But too much screen time disrupts sleep cycles thanks to the nature of the light they produce and the stimulating nature of the content.
What you can do: Invest in “gaming” glasses to cut out some of the harmful blue light that disrupts sleep cycles. Have a family device box where you all put your cell phones before you go to bed. Encourage your teen to use the settings on their own devices to monitor their screen-time – they may be surprised!
It’s normal for teens to be moody – they’ll grow out of it.
It’s a common misconception that teens are naturally moody or lazy. You’ll notice that when your teen sleeps well and has their needs met, they’re much better able to regulate their emotions and deal with day-to-day tasks.
What you can do: Try not to take emotional outbursts personally, and discuss the root cause with your teen. Find out if they are simply tired, or if something else is bothering them.
Teens can manage with a normal adult amount of sleep and anything extra is a luxury.
While the average adult may be able to cope with 7 hours of sleep a night, many teenagers actually need up to 10 hours of quality sleep in order to support their developing brains and bodies.
What you can do: If your teen is struggling to get into a healthy sleep routine, talk to their school and advocate for leniency regarding late arrival while they adapt. Help move household schedules earlier to accommodate an earlier bedtime, for example, have dinner an hour earlier so your teen still has time to enjoy their post-dinner entertainment/socializing and get to bed early enough to get 8-10 hours of sleep.
Caffeine is a great boost to get sleepy teens through the day.
Although a cup of joe can get the heart pumping and the synapses firing, that additional caffeine is a disruption to your teen’s sleep cycle, plus it may raise the blood pressure and affect the mood.
What you can do: Be aware of what your teen is drinking. Energy drinks are popular with teens and high in caffeine, so talk openly about this and ensure your teen knows the dangers of too much caffeine. Encourage them to set their own safe boundaries around caffeine consumption.
Set a good example by showing off your own good sleep habits. Set your own phone aside before you go to bed, and try cutting down on the caffeine yourself. All children, even teenagers, respond well to being shown rather than being told.
Sleep journals can help by showing small, daily improvements that can be motivating to both you and your teen. Be supportive, stay connected, and reach out when you need additional support. Subscribe to our newsletter for more information on healthy sleep habits.
*Carolina Pena, LPC, started as a Licensed Psychologist in Argentina and then obtained her master degree in Mental Health Counseling from Mercy College, NY. She has worked in the USA providing bilingual mental health services to adults children, teenagers and their families. Her main goals as a counsel is to relieve people suffering, restore family’s functioning, and improve overall quality of life by promoting life-changing habits, and helping people cope with life’s challenges.
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