Have you ever heard of a situation where a teenager is sleeping well into the afternoon? You may have even heard teens getting into trouble over this. But it’s actually natural and very much needed. Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep and the majority of teens are not getting enough. So what’s the problem? Why is it that so many teens struggle to get enough sleep? We’ll dive into 2 very common sleep problems in teens and how parents can help.
What are the common sleep problems in teens?
The most common sleep problem teens in America face is sleep deprivation. Adolescence is a time in life when we need a lot of sleep. This is largely due to the rapid changes in physical development and emotional regulation. Adults need a minimum of 7 hours whereas teens need between 8-10 hours. 70% of high schoolers report they do not get enough sleep on school nights.
Another common problem that teens face is experiencing emotions like stress and anxiety. These emotions can make sleep more difficult. And with teens in the middle of developing emotional regulations, these feelings can be intense. Oftentimes, this is the first time they will face these emotions at such a level, and do not know how to handle them.
How to help
Addressing Sleep Deprivation
Understanding what causes sleep deprivation specifically in teens can helps shine a light on why this is a common problem. During teen years the body will release the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin later at night than kids and adults. This pushes back their normal sleep-wake cycle, leading to falling asleep later at night and waking later in the morning. Many times teens just are not sleepy enough to go to bed before 11 pm.
Knowing this, you may see how the common school schedule for teens does not accommodate their bodily sleep schedule changes and their need for more sleep each night. This is a major cause of sleep deprivation for teens. But there are ways to help.
Helping Teens Get More Sleep
Establish a sleep routine. Sleep routines are a cornerstone of good sleep hygiene. It helps program our bodies to know when it’s time to get ready to sleep. This makes falling asleep and staying asleep much easier.
Keep the bedroom cool and dark. Creating an ideal environment that promotes sleep helps teens get comfortable quickly.
Encourage regular exercise. Exercise has been linked as a solution to sleep problems across all age groups. Teens can especially benefit from this. Find ways to help them get up and exercise by going on walks with them or finding a new active hobby to enjoy together like rock climbing.
Cut off electronics use an hour before bed. Blue light exposure at night delays the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Since teens are already experiencing a delay in melatonin production it’s especially important that screen time ends at least one hour before bed.
Support relaxing activities and wind-down time. As part of creating a good bedtime routine, find ways to incorporate relaxing activities. Coloring, a warm bath, and reading are great activities to enjoy during the wind-down period before going to bed.
Limit caffeine. To combat their sleep deprivation teens may turn to caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks. Limiting caffeine will help teens get to sleep at night. All caffeine should be cut off in the early afternoon for the rest of the day.
Don’t keep TVs and gaming systems in the bedroom. This helps create a comforting environment in the bedroom to associate the bedroom with relaxation and sleep. It will also remove the temptation to engage in screen time later than they should.
Short naps are okay during the day. If they’re able, teens can take naps during the day. Make sure that naps happen in the early afternoon and do not last for an hour or more. If naps are taken later in the day or last over an hour it can be very difficult to go to sleep at night.
Addressing Emotional Stressors
If feelings of stress and anxiety are harming your teen’s sleep it’s a good idea to address it. Aside from sleep problems, it can impact many other aspects of their life. Since adolescence is a time when emotional regulation develops, they can have difficulty coping with these intense emotions.
Some ways to help deal with emotional stressors are:
- Talking with them to understand their stressors
- Encourage exercise as a stress-reliever
- Teach mindfulness practices
- Providing downtime for relaxation
- Encouraging stress-relieving activities
We have covered the topic of dealing with stress in great depth. For more information be sure to check out our “What To Do When Stress Gets Serious” blog to learn more.
What To Do When Stress Gets Serious
Developing coping mechanisms to deal with negative stress can be a difficult and trying time. Children and adolescents learning to handle stress as they navigate it for the first time, need guidance and support.
Other sleep problems
While sleep deprivation and emotional stressors are the most common causes of sleep problems in teens, others issues exist that also cause sleep problems. Contact your doctor if you feel any of the below issues could be keeping your teen from getting enough sleep.
- Sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome
It’s important that teens get enough sleep during this crucial phase of development. And it’s because of these rapid physical and emotional changes that teens need to be getting 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Addressing the possibility of sleep deprivation and emotional stressors can make a big difference. But be sure to make an appointment with your doctor if you feel something else is the cause of your teen’s sleep problems.
Sources: Nemours, American Academy of Pediatrics, Sleep Foundation