Your teen has probably stretched their bedtime to accommodate homework, socializing, extracurricular activities, and cramming for exams. With the challenges of taking on more responsibilities, teens often overlook the importance of a good night’s rest as a crucial tool for success. Falling short of the 8-9-hour recommendation can deteriorate the body’s immune system and mental health over time and can lead to stress, weight gain, memory loss, and depression.
While there’s no substitute for the number of hours they clock in, it’s important for your teen to set the right conditions so they can extract as many benefits from sleeping as possible, no matter how much time they’re able to manage. Achieving a deep sleep can help boost your teen’s metabolism, provide mental preparedness for school, give them a more positive attitude, and recharge their willpower to tackle each day with energy. Here are five tips that can help teens maximize their sleep:
- Power Down Electronics
In order to maximize their rest, it’s important for teens to turn off their computer and smartphone at least 10-15 minutes before bed. The blue light from these devices is an active stimulant for your brain, preventing melatonin from helping you rest. Even if your teen avoids messages and media distractions, reading from electronic devices can still agitate the mind and prolong their move to sleep.
In order to settle down for the evening, it might be helpful for your teen to revisit a calming activity in a setting that bridges the gap between an active mindset to one of leisure. Such activities might include revisiting a book, completing a puzzle, or meditating with a guided sleep visualization (sleep visualizations are audio recordings often accompanied by music or sound effects that calm you through relaxing settings or breathing techniques).
You can also help your teen set boundaries for their electronics by creating a family charging station, so everyone’s phones are set aside after a specific time every night. Investing in a traditional alarm clock is another good way to help your teen avoid looking at a screen first thing in the morning and just before going to sleep.
- Opt for a Lean Dinner
How well your teen sleeps and how they’re able to utlize nutrients are determined most by what foods your teen eats and when. On one hand, eating too close to bedtime can overwork the body’s demands to breakdown an entire meal. On the other hand, going to sleep on an empty stomach might not leave your system with enough nutrients to process. While lifestyle options such as intermittent fasting offer their own benefits and challenges, striking the right balance for when your family eats before bed can set in motion how they’ll process energy overnight.
Eating dinner 2-3 hours before bed will give your teen enough energy to finish any evening chores or homework and not leave them feeling bloated while trying to fall asleep. If your teen is expected to stay up late for an exam, you can stack their dinner with protein such as fish, chicken, spinach, and broccoli for long-term energy as well as carbs that are easier to process such as yams, beans, quinoa, and lentils. Conversely, if your teen hasn’t eaten for 5-6 hours, it’s a good idea to have them try a small snack rich with nutrients. Snacks that promote the production of serotonin include kiwi, eggs, nuts, pineapple, and turkey.
However, teens that feel like they need an energy boost late at night are quick to turn to caffeinated products. Coffee or tea containing caffeine can stimulate their heart rate as well as increase stress and anxiety, two combatants of reaching a deep sleep state. If your teen is in need of an energizing late-night refreshment, a cold glass of water with some added citrus is a good alternative to caffeine-heavy beverages. If your they’re looking for something soothing after a stressful day, herbal teas containing ginger or mint can settle the stomach and help your teen relax.
- Stick to a Consistent Routine
Setting a firm “lights out” is a crucial aspect of achieving the best sleep possible. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every night produces a healthy rhythm that will help your teen sleep longer and wake up more refreshed. Similarly, opening the blinds in the morning and lowering the light when it’s time to unwind contribute to an expectation for activity versus relaxation. Practicing a bedtime ritual of powering down electronics, maintaining oral hygiene, and picking up a soothing activity before bed can help their body get used to lowering their energy for the night.
If your teen has difficulty sleeping, they can try light exercises such as stretching and deep breathing that remove tension from their muscles and thought processes. Napping on the other hand might contribute to trouble falling asleep. While power naps can help your teen recharge after school, they may disrupt the sleep cycle established through their daily routine. If your teen exhibits abnormal patterns of struggling to fall asleep, your teen can document how their time is spent and when they go to sleep each night. This will help them develop mindfulness about their tasks and how their energy is being distributed throughout the day.
- Prioritize Sleep
In school, teens are expected to complete an extraordinary amount of work in addition to racking up extracurricular activities for college admissions. Although it’s may seem necessary for teens to work through the night to finish any lingering assignments, reducing sleep time in lieu of getting work done is counterproductive. A lack of sleep produces a lower quality of work and diminishes your teen’s ability to comprehend and retain information.
If your teen is finding it hard to meet their deadlines, and their work time consistently replaces the time it takes to get a full night’s rest, you may want to consider reprioritizing their activities, how they study, or if they require accommodations for learning. Because your teen’s sleep schedule affects their scholastic achievements, driving ability, and mental health, it’s important to work with them, their teachers, and health experts to make sure they’re situated to succeed.
- Exercise Regularly
Similar to the effects that a sleep schedule has on your teen’s body clock, exercising regularly helps signal when it’s time to be energized and when it’s time to recover. While it may seem like relaxing all day on the couch is a good way to conserve energy, exercise releases endorphins that help to overcome lethargy during the day. This leads to a better quality of sleep for your teen because their body is focused on recovering overnight.
It’s a great practice to incorporate these tips into your teen’s life and teach your child about the importance of sleep. Listening and communicating any difficulty your teen might be having with these tasks is key to recognize patterns in their health. We hope that these strategies improve your family’s wellbeing and help your teen to wake up feeling refreshed.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.