Helping Teens Sleep

We all need our restorative sleep at night, and teenagers are no different. We may think teens have energy to burn at that age, but rest is still vitally important as they are still developing. 

Teens should be getting between eight to ten hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, with one study reporting only 3% of students in 12th grade receiving the recommended hours each night.

Sleep deprivation can result in physical and mental health problems. Fatigued teenagers are more likely to struggle with concentration issues when studying, and those old enough to drive are more at risk from traffic accidents. 

There can be a number of reasons why a teenager is struggling to fall or stay asleep, including underlying health issues such as obstructive sleep apnea.

These are prime factors which could be hindering a teen’s sleep.


Cell phones and electronic screens in general are often a parent’s main concern when their teen is not sleeping enough. Cell phones in particular have become a staple of teenage life, a key tool in their social interactions. Research points to the blue light emitted by electric screens as having an adverse effect on our ability to wind down at night.

Look to introduce a “no electronics rule” before bedtime. If phones are charged up overnight, do this in a parent’s bedroom, thereby removing the temptation for your teen to have a quick look at their social media accounts, a quick look which can soon become a long look.

Nighttime Routine

An established bedtime routine can help synchronize the body clock. By going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning you help keep the body clock which regulates sleep in check. You can generally operate to within an hour each side of the set time at night and in the morning, but look to avoid regular variations in the time your teenager goes to bed.

A teen may also think that they can rectify a week’s worth of late nights by sleeping in on a Saturday morning, but this can actually be counterproductive. They are likely to feel even more groggy and fatigued, plus it makes it more difficult to get accustomed again to their normal sleeping hours. Afternoon naps should also be avoided even when tired, as they may impair falling asleep at night.

Cut the Caffeine

Although a teenager may not drink coffee, many drinks still contain caffeine which when consumed in the hours prior to bed can hinder falling asleep. Energy drinks are a case in point, and ideally teens should be avoiding caffeine after lunchtime. If they crave a hot drink, try guiding them towards herbal tea,

Heavy meals should also be avoided prior to bed, although there is a school of thought that says high-carb snacks before bedtime may actually aid falling asleep. These snacks include pretzels, cereal, fresh or dried fruit and toast with jam, the purported benefit being that they make you feel warm and sleepy.

Try to Relax

Teens who struggle to fall asleep can try certain relaxation techniques to help prompt the body to wind down for the night. Indeed, in one study, 31% of parents reported worry about school as a factor in their teenager’s sleeping issues.

Stress and anxiety impede sleeping patterns, so if your teenager is worrying about school or another situation, then meditation or yoga could help them relax and improve their chances of sleeping through the night. Reading is also helpful; but not with a tablet, a “real” book that doesn’t emit electronic light. 

Get Homework Done Early 

Many teens put off homework until late in the evening. However, this can produce additional worry and anxiety before bedtime, particularly if it takes longer than anticipated. 

Teens should be encouraged to tackle any tasks such as homework early, preferably right after school, leaving the more fun stuff to later.

Bedroom Environment 

The right bedroom environment helps encourage good sleeping patterns. The room should be dark and have a comfortable temperature. Make sure the curtains or shades allow the room to be sufficiently dark overnight, and make sure the mattress is comfortable, too. 

Ideally, keep electronics out of the bedroom, although this can be a tall order when teens are concerned. Change the device settings to dim in the evening, to reduce exposure.

Make sure your teen is in the habit of getting sunlight exposure in the morning, as the early exposure to light helps set the body clock to normal sleeping hours.

Try using a sleep noise machine, which creates white noise that’s restful. With multiple noise settings, these devices can help greatly in creating a relaxing sleep environment.

Consult Your Pediatrician

If a teenager continues to have problems sleeping after making these lifestyle changes, there could be an underlying medical condition causing the issue. 

You should consult with a pediatrician to evaluate your teen’s sleeping habits. Depression and anxiety are two common factors in poor sleep quality. They will also look at any medications a teen is prescribed in case this may be the root cause.

One physical cause could be obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder which involves the airways collapsing overnight, causing the body to awake for air. This can happen frequently during the night, leaving your teen feeling fatigued during the day. Further symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include loud snoring, morning headaches, poor concentration and irritability. 

As with other issues which make sleeping difficult, obstructive sleep apnea can be treated once diagnosed. The key point is to consult a pediatrician if you have any concerns about your teen’s sleep problems. 

With lifestyle changes -- and treatment, if needed -- your teen can get the restorative sleep they need for healthy development and overall health.