Tips for Promoting Healthy Sleep in Teenagers
FOMO, also known as Fear Of Missing Out, is the fear of events happening on social media while you’re not present, which would only appear to be avoidable by a constant connection to such social media– essentially requiring one to be online, all the time. According to Urban Dictionary, it is a “compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity or satisfying event, often aroused by posts seen on social media websites.” FOMO is one of many factors that can negatively impact your teenager’s sleep.
So, what does healthy sleep look like?
If your teenager has healthy sleep habits, he or she should be able to fall asleep within 30 minutes of lying down, should not wake up more than once throughout the night and if they do, should be able to go back to sleep quickly. Your teenager should wake up feeling refreshed and any grogginess should dissipate quickly. Younger teenagers or “tweens” (ages 12-13) should get 9-11 hours of sleep per night; teenagers (ages 14-17), 8-10 hours of sleep; and young adults (ages 18-25), 7-9 hours of sleep. Teenagers should not feel sleepy during the day. If your teen appears to have healthy sleep habits and regularly seems well-rested, no sleep routine changes need to be made.
What do your genes have to do with sleep?
Wake up time is genetic, which means people are either predisposed to wake up early and be ready for bed early (“genetic larks”) or to wake up later and be tired later (“genetic owls”). Fighting against this tendency can have limited effectiveness. The matching of a teenager’s bedtime with his or her natural circadian rhythm is a good place to start. However, daily bedtimes should be fairly consistent, with no more than a two hour variation from weekdays to weekends, avoiding sleep phase shift disorder (jet lag syndrome).
Does your teenager always seem to wake up on the wrong side of the bed?
If so, it could be attributed to when during the sleep cycle your teenager awakens. Teenagers who wake up in sleep stages 3 or 4 (deep) tend to be cranky, while teens that wake up during stages 1 or 2 (light), tend to start their day in a better mood. Understanding this and giving your teen a few extra minutes in the morning to adjust can help them ‘snap out of it” and spend the rest of their day in a good mood.
Tips to Help Your Teenager Sleep:
- What you do matters: In general, the bed should only be used for 2 activities: sleep and for older teens, sex. Teenagers should try to avoid activities in bed such as reading, homework, texting, and talking on the phone, which can confuse and prevent the brain from winding down when it’s time to use the bed for sleeping.
- “5 More Minutes”: Avoid using the snooze button, which can make it harder in the long run to get up for the day.
- Healthy Body, Healthy Mind: Caffeine consumption should be limited after 3 PM. Recent research shows that even small amounts of caffeine early in the day can affect your ability to sleep. Elimination of caffeine altogether may be necessary.
- Set the mood: Relaxing activities can provide arousal reduction and reduce stress. Your teen can try taking a hot bath, meditation, massage, deep breathing or drinking soothing beverages such as chamomile, before bed.
- Control the environment: Reducing noise, maintaining a cool, comfortable temperature, dimming the lights, and using pleasant scents such as lavender and chamomile provide an optimal environment for sleeping. Teens will also sleep better wearing light clothes with a heavier blanket than they will in warmer clothing.
- Timing is everything: Exercise has been shown to improve sleep but not right before bedtime. Exercise should be encouraged earlier in the day and on a regular basis. Teens should also try to avoid working out in their bedrooms.
Why do electronics affect sleep and what can be done about it?
- Blue light (610-670 THz) is emitted from electronic screens such as television and smartphones. This interferes with the body’s preparation for sleep by reducing melatonin (an
important hormone that helps you sleep).
- Using software such as f.lux (https://justgetflux.com) and turning smartphones to night mode can reduce the amount of blue light your phone or computer screen emits as the day goes on. Dimming or reducing overhead lights, turning off electronic displays 1-2 hours before bed, or using candlelight are “smart” alternatives.
- Engaging TV programs, addictive video games, and intense music should be moved to earlier in the day. Violent content before bed should also be discouraged.
- Smartphones should be moved out of reach to avoid the temptation to check social media and text messages. Simply putting the phone outside of one’s view can eliminate the temptation to check it, especially overnight.
Tell Them “It’s Not Forever!”
Because teenagers may not want to make any of these changes permanently, negotiating to test these suggestions out for a week might encourage buy-in from your teen. If the changes make a significant improvement in quality of sleep, your teen may be more likely to continue them on their own.
Authors: Cheryl Tierney, MD, MPH, Taylor Aves, Alexandra Lazzara, Megan Veglia
Cheryl Tierney, MD, MPH is a Board-Certified behavior and developmental pediatrician who has been in practice since 2002. She is a native of Brooklyn, New York and completed medical school at Tufts University in Boston. Her pediatric residency was at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. She completed Fellowships in Health Services Research, where she received her MPH at Harvard School of Public Health as well as Behavior and Developmental Pediatrics in 2002.
President, ABA in PA INITIATIVE
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Section Chief, Developmental Pediatrics, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital