Sleep, nutrition, and exercise are the three lifestyle factors that are most associated with mental health. Teens need between eight and ten hours of sleep per night, with most teens needing about nine hours of sleep. Unfortunately, studies have shown that most teens are not getting the sleep they need. In fact, the average teen is only sleeping about seven hours per night. One reason that teens are not getting enough sleep is that during this time their biological sleep patterns shift so that natural sleep and wake times become later. Thus, many teens find it difficult to fall asleep early in the evening, and school schedules demand that they wake up earlier than their natural sleep pattern would prefer. Other factors also contribute to teens getting less than adequate sleep, such as after-school commitments, homework, and not prioritizing sleep. Consequently, many teens are chronically sleep deprived. While it is common to try to catch up on sleep during the weekends, this irregularity in sleep schedule can further hinder sleep quality.
Sleep deprivation can cause or contribute to a variety of concerns for teens. For instance, teens who are sleep deprived are more likely to have difficulties with depression, irritability, anxiety, and behavioral problems. Additionally, teens who are sleep deprived often do less well in school than they could due to falling asleep in class, tardiness or absences, and trouble paying attention, learning or remembering what they have learned, and utilizing their creativity.
Fortunately, teens can make changes to their routines to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep.
• First, it is important for teens to maintain a regular sleep schedule. They should go to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day. It is important that they maintain a similar schedule on the weekends, going to bed and waking up within no more than an hour of their weekday schedule.
• Short naps in the early afternoon can be beneficial, as long as they are not too long or too close to bedtime.
• A little planning can be very helpful in ensuring that teens have enough time to complete everything on their to-do lists before bedtime. Getting homework done earlier in the evening will allow them to have some time to relax before bed.
• Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
• Turn off electronics 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
• Maintain a consistent pre-bed routine that is calming and relaxing.
• If they have many thoughts or worries on their mind before bed, they should write them down or talk to someone about these thoughts during the day.
Contact your child’s pediatrician if you think that he or she may have a medical issue, such as a sleep disorder, that is interfering with the quality of his/her sleep or ability to fall asleep.
Christine Howard, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Resource: National Sleep Foundation, https://sleepfoundation.org