How Can You Help Teens Get More Sleep?

There are lifestyle changes that middle- and high-schoolers can make, and even several small changes can have a big effect on their well-being. Here is some expert advice on how to win back a couple of precious hours a night:

  • Take a stand: Teenagers will resist, but there’s evidence that parental help with limit-setting on study and sleep does help kids make better decisions about managing their time.
  • Encourage consistency: It’s important for your teen to go to bed as close as possible to the same time every night, and to get as close as possible to eight hours of sleep. But it’s also important for him to stick to the same schedule — within reason — on the weekends.
  • Limit screen time: Emphasize the importance of turning off all electronic devices a minimum of one hour before bed. Plan ahead so that homework that needs to be done on a screen is completed by early evening and “off-screen” work is saved for later at night. That also means no “unwinding” by going on Facebook or Instagram. Social media is a great place to find new sources of anxiety to chase away sleep.
  • Discourage snacking: Adolescents are prone to eating and drinking on an ersatz schedule, as a means to self-regulate, or to stay awake, or just because they can. But the bag of chips or the cookies at 1am, or caffeine any time after dinner — whether or not they help get the essay written — can postpone sleep, and harmfully.
  • Boost the biological clock: A low dose (2-3 mg) of the sleep hormone melatonin (a non-prescription vitamin which can be purchased at the drugstore) one to hours before it’s time to go to bed may help jumpstart melatonin production that tends to start later at night in adolescents.
  • Simplify: Teenagers need you to help them set realistic expectations for how many activities they can get involved in without burning out. That means limiting pressure to build the ultimate college resume.
  • Set a good example: Model good sleep habits for your teens by making sleep part of living a healthy lifestyle — like eating right and exercising regularly.
  • Streamline mornings: Encourage teenagers to shower, pick out clothes and pack up books before bed so they don’t have to spend time doing it in the morning.
  • Pump up productivity: Show them that using odd bits of time they might otherwise blow off can be fruitful. Also, by breaking homework down into bite-size pieces, say 45-minute blocks with 10-minute breaks to clear one’s head, they can get more done and be more relaxed doing it.
  • Keep the bed for sleep: Experts agree that it’s easier to fall asleep and stay asleep if you associate the bed with sleeping. That means encouraging your teenager to work in another room he associates with getting work done.