With a new year often comes new resolutions for self-improvement. Since teens often get insufficient sleep, one of the most important, yet most neglected, ways to better take care of themselves is by improving their sleep habits.
Wake Up to the Importance of Quality Sleep Habits
It may come as a surprise, but teens need more sleep than children and adults. According to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, teens should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep (most get 7 hours or fewer). Not doing so can have wide-ranging consequences for their mental and physical well-being, which is why pre-teens, teenagers, and parents can benefit from improved sleep hygiene.
Causes: Reasons for Restlessness
Physical and Mental Causes
- Biological Clock. Known as “sleep phase delay,” the clock of a teenage body (circadian rhythm) shifts two hours; staying up two hours longer and waking up two hours later becomes their new rhythm. When school start times do not adjust with them, teens can become chronically sleep deprived.
- Too much light from too many screens. Devices emit light that interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, signaling the brain to stay awake. They also make it hard to “switch off” distractions. A study from Vic Health and the Sleep Health Foundation of Australia notes that a teen can get about 20 minutes more sleep a night just by avoiding screens an hour before bed.
- Sleep Disorders. Teens suffering from conditions like sleep apnea can struggle to sleep without proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Socializing and Leisure Activities. Anything from chatting with friends to playing video games in excess can consume teens’ time and focus so proper sleep is elusive.
- Work (School and Part-Time). Homework, sports, and part-time job demands can make committing to healthy sleep habits challenging.
- Attitudes. American culture often glamorizes being busy, so people feel pressure to conform instead of to prioritize sleep.
Effects: The Wrong Side of the Bed
- Mental and Emotional Health. Whatever complications adolescence brings to an individual’s moods, sleep deprivation can intensify. Teens also engage in more risk-taking behaviors and develop problems with their memory, attention, and creativity.
- Physical Health. Tired teens are prone to more injuries and illnesses because they are clumsier and have weakened immune systems. Drinking energy drinks and eating more to compensate can also make one susceptible to diabetes and obesity.
- Academic Performance. Without adequate sleep, teens can sleep during class, miss class, and do poorly on assignments.
- Athletic Performance. Slower reaction times and fatigue can prevent success in sports.
Solutions: Ending the Nightmare
- Bedroom Set Up. An uncluttered, quiet, dark bedroom is ideal with the temperature set at 75°F or below and where the bed is used for sleeping only.
- Food and Drugs. Anything caffeinated should be avoided within 4-6 hours of bedtime. Nicotine and alcohol should also be avoided, as should over the counter sleeping pills and sleep aids. Large meals and snacks 1-2 hours before bed aren’t a good idea, but a healthy diet that includes a light snack before bed is recommended.
- Exercise. Daily exercise lasting a minimum of 30 minutes and not done within 2-3 hours of bedtime makes it easier to sleep and improves one’s overall health.
- Winding Down. About an hour before bedtime, teens should set aside devices and homework (no test prep homework late and before bed!) to begin relaxing and preparing for sleep, including eating a light snack, washing up, and doing something calming.
- When to Go to Bed and When to Wake Up. A teen should go to bed and get out of bed at about the same time every day, including weekends, so their internal clock stays organized.
- To Nap or Not to Nap. Naps that are short (20-30 minutes) and take place early in the afternoon are okay, but anything longer or later and it will be harder to fall asleep.
- Talk it Out. Discuss sleep hygiene information and concerns.
- Make Plans. Put plans for room arrangements, schedules, diet, and exercise in writing as a reminder and way to assess progress.
- Be a Role Model. After a talk, you have to do the walk yourself. It will encourage your teen to follow through.
- Seek Medical Assistance. Contact a doctor if the above interventions are unsuccessful.
For additional information, visit the UK’s Sleep Council website.
Final Thoughts: Rise and Shine
For adolescents, improving sleep hygiene can make them not only happier, healthier, and more successful teens, but also adults with stronger minds and bodies as a result of fixing bad habits earlier in life. So, whether you’re a teen who needs to turn off the phone early, or you’re a parent who needs to buy new curtains, know that although improving sleep habits can be challenging, the rewards are worth it.
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware can be reached at 215-886-9188.