Got a sleepy teenager not getting out of bed? Let’s be honest, living with a sleep deprived teenager is like living with a sleep deprived toddler on steroids. It’s awful for them and awful for you. Experts agree that getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health, which is why it is worthy of our attention.
Sleep deprivation is on the increase in teens. It has doubled in the last 15 years. Sleep deprivation is about lack of sleep, low quality sleep and not sleeping at the right times.
The effects of sleep deprivation can lead to a decrease in their ability to learn, and to manage emotions and thought processes (at a time when there is already a reduced capacity because of the stage of brain development they are in). It increases the risk of anxiety and depression, increases the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviours and the longer it lasts the harder it can be to reign back in.
For us parents, feeling and seeing the impact of sleep deprivation on the rest of the family can really take its toll. Supporting a tween or teen to recognise when they themselves are sleep deprived AND consistently walking the road of ever encouraging them to take the steps necessary to overcome sleep deprivation can be long and tough.
So, firstly before we talk about what teen needs, let’s take a minute to look at what parents need in order to support their sleepy teenager through sleep deprivation.
What parents need to support their teen through sleep deprivation.
Recognising what you are bringing to the situation (yep, all your strengths too) through; understanding how you are impacted by the sleep deprivation, understanding your own thoughts and feelings about what this means for your teen, about you as a parent (your thoughts on this not ours- we think you are just great!) and being able to see how all this is playing out for you can be key to supporting your teen through sleep deprivation in a way that allows you to do so as peacefully as possible and in a way that will build your relationship with your teen in the short and long term.
Having key strategies for yourself when you begin to feel a little stressed is so important in particular because when we are talking with our teens about making changes to their behaviour the chances are they will push back, they will need extra support in following through, they will need lots of grace and it is easier to give all this if we have it for ourselves. (This is one of the reasons we have created our one:one mentoring service)
Signs your teen may have sleep deprivation
Wired at night and can’t get up in the morning.
Do you find your teen saying they are not tired at bedtime? Are they negotiating with you for 5 more minutes? Are they suddenly starting up a conversation or seem to have lots of energy?
Your teen may not actually be tired and there is a physical reason for this.
Our teen’s body clocks change during puberty. This is due to chemical changes that happen in the body during puberty. School times however, don’t adapt to this. It’s crazy but just by going through puberty, puts your child at risk of sleep deprivation!
Okay so to be fair, there are not many of us that can jump out of bed as soon as the alarm clock goes off. However, in teens the chemical melatonin which induces sleep is released later in the evening and for longer into the morning. This means that it can be hard for them to physically wake up.
Without a clear sleep routine to help induce sleep earlier in the evening, teens could be missing out on valuable hours of sleep. Some teens are affected more by their internal clock than others.
Long sleep-ins and catch up naps.
A teen that is sleep deprived will often have extremely long sleep ins. While it can be common for teens to sleep until 9.30-10 am if they don’t have a reason to get up (e.g. school, job, sport, catching up with friends etc), not getting up until the afternoon can indicate they are sleep deprived.
Some of us have preteens or teens fall asleep at every opportunity. While a quick nap can be beneficial for some teens and adults alike (we all love a quick ‘nana nap’), napping for longer periods everyday is another indication of sleep deprivation. Day napping and long ‘sleep ins’ hinder your teen falling asleep at night at a reasonable hour. It is ideal that they get 9 hours before getting up for school and a later bedtime obviously makes this harder and this can lead to sleep deprivation.
Low in mood or cranky.
Are you walking around on eggshells with your teen? Do you feel that your teen is quieter than normal? Is your teen fighting more with their siblings over the smallest of things? We’ve all been there, late night out followed by an early morning. Remember how it makes you feel sad and cranky. Teens are no different if they are sleep deprived.
Anxiety and depression
It is normal for your teen to feel sad or anxious with life’s ups and downs. This can last for a few days and you may see changes in eating, sleeping, concentrating and motivation levels as well as voicing feeling sad, helpless or hopeless.
When a teen is sleep deprived, they are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Signs of anxiety may include; extreme worry about specific things or everyday life, unable to concentrate, avoiding commitments or responsibilities, appearing on edge, physical aches and pains. Signs of depression may include; feeling worthless, withdrawing from socialising, anger and irritability, changes in eating, sleeping and self-care, changes in grades. If you are seeing this in your child over 2 weeks you need to make an appointment with your Doctor. Getting your teen to sleep earlier is not enough to help your child, although a good sleep routine and good sleep hygiene will help.
Sleeping less than 9 hours a night regularly
Sleeping 9 hours is the recommended sleep time for teens so that they can stay mentally and physically fit, reach their academic potential and have good health. Having a consistent sleep routine that enables 9 hours is paramount for creating lifelong healthy sleep habits for health, wellbeing both now and in the future.
If you think your teen is showing signs of sleep deprivation it is important to try and work with your teen to influence some healthy sleep inducing habits. It’s unfortunately not enough for your teen to just ‘know’ them. We also need to help them put them into practice.
Tips to help your teen sleep, even when they don’t want to.
There is normally a lot of opportunities and pressure (with lots of benefits too), for teens to be busy; school, homework, jobs both paid and at home, sports, hobbies and socialising with friends and family. With all the busyness it is very common for a teen to lose hours of sleep. Think in terms of weeks when thinking about total hours of sleep. During the pandemic, feelings of overwhelm, social disconnection and changes to our normal routine took over from all the busyness for some of our teens. This too can lead to teens reducing the number of hours of sleep they are clocking up as well as the quality of the sleep they are getting.
1. Influence with knowledge, empathy and kindness
When you aren’t ready for your day to end it can be hard to be told to go to bed and sleep. Even more so if you do not understand the importance of sleep. Explaining with empathy the reasons why sleep is important can help. In a peaceful moment make a statement like ‘When teens get 9 hours sleep at night, they are happier, more organised, smarter and healthier’. It doesn’t even need to be directly to your teen or preteen… just make sure the statement is made within earshot! Plant a seed of thought if your teen is yawing, unable to get up. Ask ‘how are you sleeping? You look tired’. ‘What can we do to help you get to bed earlier tomorrow night?’. Do not have these conversations if your teen is super cranky. It will not go well. If your teen becomes cranky during the conversation, come back to it later.
Screen addiction and conditioned arousal are very real for teens. Considering this it is better to try and influence a change, rather than demand one. Remember one small change at a time. Let them choose the change and ask how you can help support them to stick to it. Praise all changes and praise all willingness to change their current routine.
2. Routine, Routine, Routine
A consistent routine tells the brain that it is time to be getting ready for sleep. Some things you may want to put into the routine include; a light snack, warm shower, no screens 30 mins before bed, wind down chat in bed to let the brain process the day and a lotion or potion that is only used at night (think lavender spray etc.). All these triggers will reinforce to the brain that sleep time is very near and it is time to relax.
Have a set wake up time and go to sleep time and stick to the routine Monday to Friday and don’t go too far out of the routine on weekends and school holidays. At weekend and school holidays once up, get dressed and eat at the usual meal times around normal school hours. During the weekend, the days can seem so long and others go in the blink of an eye. The temptation to stay in pyjamas and in bed can be hard to resist some days. When you are trying to get sleep back into routine it can be even harder.
Give extra time for the night routine as some teens need extra help with organisation and staying on task. Praise all efforts at sticking to the routine.
3. Create the right environment.
A room that is calm, uncluttered and cool will be easier to fall asleep in. Some teens may need a little company while they have a five-minute tidy up, even if this means just putting the things on their bed in a corner of the room so they can sleep in a clear bed. Teens can feel hot one minute and cold the next as their hormones increase and decrease. It can be helpful to have a fan in the room and an extra blanket so they can go between both if they need to. A lamp can also be a mental signal to the brain that it is getting near to sleep time. Weighted bedding can also be helpful in alleviating anxiety. Feeling at peace with the family is also part of creating a calm environment, which means they are never too old for that good night hug, pat, kiss, smile.
In the morning open blinds and curtains to help your teen wake up. You might need to do this one centimetre or inch at a time, slowly over 15 minutes, going in and out as you go about your own morning routine. or turn on a bedside lamp first rather than the room light in winter.
4. Adjusting screen time.
Our teens are the first generation to be connected 24 hours a day digitally. Aim to be screen free the last 30 mins of the day, or for it to be helpful screen time. For some, that might mean just not taking a phone into the bathroom while they get ready for bed!
Screen use can be exciting, stimulating, or drive worry and leave a teen feeling like they are missing out. None of this is exactly calming right? Talk with your teen about what content they are viewing before bedtime rather than a full removal of the device. It might sound like ‘How does what you are using help you fall asleep?’
Applications already exist on phones and laptops that shift or filter the blue light on devices. You can also see how much time you have been online and where you have been spending your time. Encourage your teen to use these settings for reflection purposes and to help get into a healthy sleep routine.
5. Stay Active
Being active helps teens fall asleep quicker and feel more rested when they wake in the morning. Specifically one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise (can be in small amounts of time that add up to 1 hour) three to four times a week (exercise that makes your teens heart rate increase and gets them out of breath). The timing of when to exercise for the maximum benefit depends on how your teen feels after, some feel too hot, too alert, others feel relaxed and ready to sleep. Encouraging your teen to increase their daily activity levels may be more successful if they are exercising with family, a friend and doing an activity they enjoy.
6. Seek Help
Some teens may benefit from speaking with their doctor if they are struggling to sleep well. It’s never too late to seek help or to try and address sleep challenges if they are causing problems for their physical and mental health. Even herbal or hormonal sleep inducing alternatives which are available ‘over the counter’ should be discussed with your doctor first, just to rule out any underlying issues that might be causing poor sleep. Overcoming sleep deprivation can be a long process for some teens in particular because of the changes that are occurring during puberty for our teens. It might be easier to tackle one sleep habit/routine at a time rather than pulling the rug out all of a sudden! As always, keeping up with your own healthy sleep habits and getting the rest of the family involved for support, when it comes to things like reducing screen time before bed, increasing activity and creating calm environments will continue to reaffirm the importance of sleep for health in your family.
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