Is Your Teen Sleep- Deprived?

By Leslie Davis

Teenagers need about nine hours of sleep a night to feel well-rested, according to the National Sleep Foundation. With tests to cram for, after-school activities to enjoy, friends to catch up with and papers to finish, the majority of teens don’t come close to meeting that number.

As your teen heads back to school, it is important to make sure they are getting the proper amount of sleep each night. A good night’s sleep is vital to proper brain and body function. Teens who short-change their sleep each night can have problems learning, feel more stressed, eat unhealthier foods, load up on caffeine and nicotine, and lose their ability to concentrate. Lack of sleep can also lead to more car accidents from teens falling asleep behind the wheel.

A Good Night’s Sleep

Biologically, a teenager’s sleep patterns have them going to sleep and waking up later, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It is actually natural for your teen to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m. While you may not be able to get your teen to go to sleep before then, there are things you can do to make sure they get a more restful sleep.

  • Make their bedroom a calming place to sleep. Many teens use their rooms to do homework, and may keep their personal space very cluttered. Help your teen create a bedroom that is calming instead of stressful by having them do their homework elsewhere, keep their room clean and make sure it is dark enough to allow them to sleep.
  • Maintain a schedule. Your teen should go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Consistent sleep schedules can help your teen feel less tired because their body will be in sync with its natural sleep rhythms. This is likely to get thrown off on weekends, when teens tend to stay up later and sleep in, but keep your teen on a sleep schedule as much as possible.
  • Establish a pre-bedtime routine. Winding down before sleep is a good way to help your teen doze off. Encourage them to read a book or magazine, or listen to relaxing music.
  • Avoid physical activity or large meals before bedtime. Both of these can cause your teen to have a restless sleep, and are best done at least a few hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t let them procrastinate. Teens are known for their procrastination skills, and they will often forego sleep in order to cram for an exam, finish their homework or start a paper. Have your teen finish their homework by a certain time each night so they can unwind before heading to bed.
  • Cut out caffeine and sugar. To help them stay up to finish their homework or cram for a test, teens will often guzzle a Red Bull, have some candy or drink coffee. While this may help them concentrate temporarily, it is likely to result in a sleepless night. Keep healthy snacks around so your teenager isn’t tempted to boost their energy with a quick fix.
  • Bring back naptime. If your teen insists on maintaining a jam-packed evening schedule or is wired to be a night owl, have them take an afternoon nap. As long as it is not taken too close to bedtime, a nap can be the energizer they need.
  • Teach them how to relax. A lot of sleepless nights are caused by worry, anxiety or a racing mind. Help your teen learn to relax through music, journaling, meditating, reading or any other activity that helps them feel calm.

Treating a Sleep Disorder

It may be that your teen isn’t missing out on sleep because they are distracted with other activities or loaded up on caffeine. Sleepless nights may be the symptom of a sleeping disorder like insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome or narcolepsy. Sleeping disorders are treatable with the help of a doctor or other health professional.

Research has also shown that lack of sleep can lead to depression in teens. A 2006 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that many teens who exhibit symptoms of depression are more likely to experience sleep problems. More than 70 percent of teens who reported feeling depressed also reported not getting enough sleep at night and being excessively sleepy during the day. Many of the teens surveyed reported feeling hopeless about the future, or feeling unhappy, sad or depressed. If your teen is experiencing sleepless nights caused by depression, treatment for depression may help them get a good night’s sleep.