8 Easy Steps to Improving Your Teenager’s Sleep

Why is your teenager not sleeping well?

Have you noticed your teenager is staying up all night texting on their phone or playing video games? Do they complain of being too tired to do homework? Do they sleep the weekends away? Or do they complain of disturbed sleep or problems falling asleep? Here are some steps you can take to help your teen improve their sleep.

  1. Observe: Over the course of a few days, make a mental note or physical list of the effect lack of sleep or poor sleep is having on your teen. When they get up in the morning you can ask “how did you sleep?” and have a short discussion with them about their sleep. If they didn’t sleep well, ask a few more questions, such as “did you have a problem falling asleep or staying asleep?” “did anything wake you?” “how long were you awake when you woke in the middle of the night?” “what did you do when you woke up?” Also try to notice the effects of lack of sleep, such as grumpy mood, needing a nap in the afternoon, being too tired to do after school or evening activities or a drop in school grades.
  2. Model: Consciously model positive sleep habits, even if you don’t usually follow them. For example, you could say “I notice if I go to bed too late I’m too tired the next day, so I’m going to bed now.” “I’m going to get away from screens now because I’m going to bed in an hour and I want to be able to go right to sleep.”  
  3. Discuss: Choose a quiet time to discuss with your teen about their sleep habits.A car ride is a great time for this type of discussion. This is not a time to scold, it is a time to be curious and a helpful problem solver. For example: “I’ve noticed you seem to be having a hard time sleeping/staying asleep at night and I wonder if that is why you’re too tired to do homework in the evenings. I know you really want to go to X University, and I am worried about how that might affect your grades. Have you noticed a problem with your sleep?” (If they don’t, use your memory or notes from step one to remind them of what they told you or what you observed to gently encourage them to acknowledge their sleep issues). Ask if they would like to learn how to have better sleep. If Yes, go to step 4. If not,  leave the door open by telling them you are ready to discuss it anytime, and then go back to step 1 and try again in a few weeks. Sometimes teens, like all of us, have to think things over for a while before they are ready to make change.
  4. Educate: Let your teen know the benefits of adequate, good quality sleep. These include doing better academically, having higher test scores, having fewer accidents, including car accidents, getting along better with others (even parents), getting sick less often, having less moodiness, being less likely to be overweight, depressed and have behavior problems. Here’s a link to a video if you think that’s an easier way for your teen to absorb the information: https://youtu.be/xxxWv6PM4EM .
  5. Assess: Explore with your teen the items that might be contributing to poor sleep. No Sleepless Nights website lists a number of sleep tips you can review with your teen.  Make a list of the ones that apply to your teen’s sleep situation.
  6. Plan: Choose 3 or 4 items from the list for your teen to try out. Help them implement the tips if they like. For example, you can help them blackout all the lights from their room. One idea if your teen usually sleeps with their phone so they can listen to music is to buy a cheap bluetooth speaker that can be synced to their phone with the phone placed outside the room and the speaker inside. That way they can listen to music without being tempted to text friends at midnight. Another idea might to be agree on a bedtime with your teen and have them set an alarm for 30 minutes before their bedtime so they can start their bedtime routine.
  7. Reassess: Using the process in #1, assess if the changes made are helping your teenager sleep better. Point out any changes or improvements you notice.
  8. Repeat: After one week, if your teenager’s sleep still isn’t what they would like it to be, repeat steps 5 and 6, adding some other sleep hygiene tricks to what you are already doing and then reassess again after one week.

What if none of this works? That might mean it is time to talk to your teen’s doctor. Let the doctor know everything you have tried. Sleep problems can be caused by physical or other problems, so medical assessment is a good idea if none of the above have helped. Or, if you are having a hard time even having this conversation with your teen, maybe you need some parent coaching to get you through it. If so, I’m happy to help! Email me at wiseowlparenting@gmail.com to set up an appointment with me or check out my website for more information at wiseowlcoaching.org .

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