It’s not very often that we talk about teenagers and sleep here at Restful Parenting but that doesn’t mean it’s not important! You may have a newborn, are currently chasing your toddler down for nap times or maybe you’re putting your school age child on the bus each day… you may be nowhere near thinking about the teenage years yet. And you may not want to. I mean, they grow up too fast already! BUT, in addition to setting the foundation for teaching your child how to be a good human being and teaching them about the world, teaching them good sleep habits now will pay in dividends later in their lives too.
Teenagers and sleep came up one night while I was driving with my 13 year old daughter. We were having a conversation about her teenage friends and their sleep habits. She was telling me how so many of her friends, boys especially, were always so tired during the day. Some are even nodding off in class! And most usually have to go home and take a nap after school! That is when my daughter told them that she’s not allowed to nap after school. Of course they couldn’t quite understand and I did interject with “it’s not that you aren’t allowed to nap it’s just that…yeah, you’re not allowed to nap. But for a very good reason.”
Being the oldest of 4 children and the daughter of a sleep consultant, she has seen how I’ve made sleep a priority in our home and how consistent bedtimes are. Bedtimes are non-negotiable in our home. We have often discussed how lack of sleep affects a person’s mood and behavior and in turn affects everyone around them. Laying the foundation for healthy sleep and knowing how to fall asleep on their own when they are little is essential in creating healthy habits and making sleep a priority as they grow.
Why after school naps are NOT a good idea.
Much like when we have little children who need us to help protect their sleep, we also have big kids that need that same help. Having a nap from 4-5pm is like having a coffee at 8pm for us! It is going to give that boost of energy and just enough sleep so that come 11pm, they genuinely aren’t tired when that natural rise of melatonin kicks in. This means that bedtime is pushed later, most likely 1-2am and morning wake up is going to be brutal. They are going to fight through their day just to get home and crash for that afternoon nap to repeat the whole cycle all over again!
If you have a young child that’s hard to wake now, the teen years may be a struggle, so teaching good sleep habits early on in your child’s life will help keep those good sleep habits later in life. This will be especially difficult once your teenagers are working and staying up late studying, playing sports or doing other activities that keep them out later in the evenings, but if they are at least going to bed ‘on time’ most nights they shouldn’t find themselves needing a nap each day after school.
‘Making up’ sleep on the weekends?
A little sleeping in on weekends is okay, but the circadian rhythm works best when we are on a consistent sleep schedule. If you are going to allow your teen to sleep in, allow it on the Saturday morning. If they sleep in until 11am on Sunday mornings, they aren’t going to be tired enough to go to bed at a proper time on Sunday night, starting the week off tired and miserable on Monday morning!
Electronic devices vs healthy sleep
Along with the naps, another thing to really consider with teenagers and sleep is the use of electronics and the exposure to blue light before bed. The blue light that emits from the tv, computers, phones and tablets slows and reduces the production of melatonin. This means that it is going to be harder for them to either fall asleep or stay asleep!
A good goal for everyone, is to be off of their electronic devices at least 1 hour before going to bed and 2 hours for those who really struggle with sleep. Most importantly, no electronics allowed in the bedroom after bedtime (cause you know the temptation will be there for them to be on their device instead of sleeping!). It may be tough at first but encouraging a bedtime routine with some downtime will make in difference in their sleep.
Sleep vs Stress
Having a well rested teenager can also help decrease a lot of the pressure and stress your teen may be under and will allow them to handle stress better too. Just think of how you feel when you are tired and stressed and now add teen hormones to that mix, and well, if you were ever that cranky teenager storming out of a room you might know what I mean. Getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night will keep your teen well rested so they can handle what life has to offer.
Having a teenager is hard enough.. a sleep deprived one would be… phew I don’t know… a LOT more than any parent needs to deal with!
For more on teenagers and sleep, check out this news article about sleep deprivation in teenagers.