This week, I encountered two music students who were not their usual “on-the-ball selves” during their private lessons.  After observing them make a few mistakes that they normally wouldn’t make and a whole lot of yawning, I asked each girl if she was feeling OK.  Both admitted that they hadn’t slept well the night before. When I queried a little more, one said she thought she’d slept for “maybe an hour or so” and the other said “I can tell you it wasn’t very much.”  These conversations got me thinking about my own sleep habits now and as a teen, and how different they are.  I wish I’d understood then how very important sleep is to physical and emotional wellness!  I remember my parents telling me to go to bed and that whatever I was doing for school could wait but it didn’t go much beyond that, most likely because we didn’t have the internet to allow us to read studies on sleep. Parenting then was also more “Do what I say and we’re not discussing why” than it is now.  

Since teens want to know WHY they need to do something and HOW it will benefit them, let’s do a quick rundown on sleep:

  • Both the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine state that teens need between 8-10 hours per night, every night.  This is not something you can “make up” on the weekends and have it help the body in the same manner.
  • The teen years are formative both in brain and body, as the teen grows and hormones start to regulate.  Growing well requires rest!
  • Sleep helps us to think clearly (being able to connect the dots in learning), be more balanced in our emotions, encourages creativity, and helps our overtaxed bodies to repair themselves.
  • Screen time before bed is known to stimulate our brains and our eyes, making it harder to fall asleep.
  • Caffeine and energy drinks affect the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

What does sleep deprivation to do all of us?

  • Poor sleep has been linked to mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • When we are exhausted, we make poor choices and take more risks.  We also experience exaggerated emotions and impulsive behavior.  With an already emotional teen, who needs that?
  • We don’t retain information well when we are tired so studying to the point of exhaustion isn’t helping us ace that test!
  • Is your kid an athlete?  The Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics published an article by Dr. Matthew D. Milewski and Dr. David L. Skaggs showing a relationship between insufficient sleep and sports injuries.  Their research showed that 65% of students getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night had more frequent injuries.

How can parents help while not getting into a huge argument over bedtimes?

  • Together, design a bedtime/wake time that is acceptable to both, citing the facts above as a reason to prioritize sleep.  The habit of going to bed at a certain time may take a few weeks to form and they will need to keep at it, even if they don’t feel tired at that moment.
  • Help them form a night time ritual, prepping them for bed. What time do they turn off their devices, wash their face and brush their teeth? Is a small cup of tea or a melatonin gummy helpful?  Explore with them different ways to wind down.
  • Help the child to understand that sleep isn’t always immediate.  They may lie there for a while until they relax and they need to stay in bed to form the habit.  White noise, a sleep meditation, prayer, etc. may help them drift off.
  • Help make the child’s room conducive to sleep: dark, cool, white noise, comfy pillows of the kid’s choosing.
  • That afternoon nap isn’t helping – in fact, it’s hindering sleep.  Encourage your child to come home from school, blow off a little steam with some exercise or a chat with you, and then get to the homework. That way, the homework is done on the early side, they won’t feel pressured to stay up late for academic reasons, and they’ll be tired enough to wind it down for the day at a reasonable hour.
  • Consider implementing a family rule that phones are not in the child’s bedroom.  You might have them charge in your room overnight instead.

Lastly, my suggestion is that we all try to remove the idea of perfection and “doing it all” for our teens. Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough, particularly when it comes to the emotional and physical wellbeing that sleep brings to a developing mind and body.  Perhaps our kids would sleep more restfully if their calendars were less full and they weren’t trying to be perfect at everything all the time.

Be well!