As a parent, sleep, more often than not, is hard to come by. When your kids are babies, you’re waking up because they’re waking up to feed or be changed. As they get a little older, the reasons shift to anxiety, bed-wetting or bad dreams. Once they’re teenagers, it’s because you’re worried about them when they’re out late with their friends or engaging on social media late into the night. 

Regardless of your children’s age, sleep is essential for many reasons. It’s basically food for the brain. A simple consultation with Dr. Google will show you that your body and brain are actively recuperating during sleep. Your body rejuvenates itself by getting the rest it needs after a day of moving, which helps your immune system fight anything that might be attacking it. Your brain, especially, has a chance to decompress from a long day of stimuli, renewing itself and strengthening neurological pathways. 

We turned to our favorite experts at the National Sleep Foundation to get more helpful information about the importance of teenagers and sleep. Teens need about 8-10 hours of sleep each night to function at their best. During adolescence, your teen’s biological sleep patterns will shift, resulting in them going to bed and waking up later. Teens are faced with many more distractions and causes for lack of sleep than we were even 20-30 years ago. Not getting enough sleep can have some pretty harmful consequences, too.

What are some consequences?

The National Sleep Foundation reports that not getting enough sleep can lead to a teen’s:

  • Limited ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems 
  • Increased acne and other skin problems
  • Inappropriate or aggressive behavior and impatience with friends, teachers and family members
  • Poor eating habits that may contribute to body image issues
  • Heightened reaction to alcohol
  • Increased use of caffeine and nicotine
  • Unsafe driving habits
  • Increased feelings of depression

Here are some facts directly from the National Sleep Foundation poll: 

“The NSF poll calculated depressive mood scores for each of the 1,602 poll respondents by measuring adolescents' responses to four mood states (using a scale of "1" to "3" where 1 equals "not at all" and 3 equals "much"):

  • Felt unhappy, sad or depressed
  • Felt hopeless about the future
  • Felt nervous or tense
  • Worried too much about things

The results showed that about half (46%) of the adolescents surveyed had a depressive mood score of 10 to 14, 37% had a score of 15 to 19, and 17% had a score of 20 to 30; these scores are considered low, moderate and high respectively.

Most notably, those adolescents with high scores ranging from 20 to 30 were more likely than those with lower scores to take longer to fall asleep on school nights, get an insufficient amount of sleep and have sleep problems related to sleepiness. In fact, 73% of those adolescents who report feeling unhappy, sad, or depressed also report not getting enough sleep at night and being excessively sleepy during the day.

While many adults may think that adolescents have things easy or don't have much to worry about – the opposite seems true according to the NSF poll. Most adolescents were likely to say they worried about things too much (58%) and/or felt stressed out/anxious (56%). Many of the adolescents surveyed also reported feeling hopeless about the future, or feeling unhappy, sad or depressed much or somewhat within the past two weeks of surveying.

Research shows that lack of sleep affects mood, and a depressed mood can lead to lack of sleep. To combat this vicious cycle, sleep experts recommend that teens prioritize sleep and focus on healthy sleep habits. Teens can start by getting the 8 to 10 hours of sleep they need each night, keeping consistent sleep and wake schedules on school nights and weekends, and opting for relaxing activities such as reading or taking a warm shower or bath before bed instead of turning on the TV or computer.”

How can I help my teenager sleep better?

As parents, we want to set our children up for success whenever possible. One of the first places we can do that is making sure they get a good night’s sleep. Here are some tips from our experience as well as from our trusty experts at the National Sleep Foundation: 

  • Make the bedroom sleep-friendly. Keep it cool, quiet and dark and invest in blackout curtains or a great eye mask.
  • Invest in a quality mattress. Oftentimes overlooked, a good, comfortable, breathable mattress can make all the difference in the quality of sleep. It’s quality AND quantity that matters. Nook’s Twin and Full mattresses are hypoallergenic, breathable and supremely comfortable.
  • Try using this nifty sleep diary to help you and your teen track what might be impacting his/her sleep habits.
  • Establish as much of a routine as possible and stick to it (yes, even on the weekends). A consistent routine allows your body to get into a rhythm. Interfere with your body’s natural rhythm and you’ll likely feel sluggish during the day and have a hard time falling asleep at night. 
  • Teach your body bedtime signals by doing the same things every night before you go to sleep, like taking a bath/shower, washing your face, reading a book, etc.
  • Power naps work, when done right. Try to take a quick 15-minute catnap at the end of the school day. Naps that are too long or too late in the day can mess up your ability to fall asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, tea, soft drinks or too much sugar after dinner.
  • While I know this can be challenging with after school activities, try to limit the amount your teen eats, drinks or exercises before bed.
  • Limit screentime! Your teen doesn’t need his/her phone in bed. Try to remove all electronics from their bedroom (TV, computer, smart phone) or at least limit the exposure to it the hour before bed.
  • Ask a friend to drive if you’re too tired. Driving when sleep deprived is the equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol level of .08%, which is illegal.

Final Thoughts

"If parents and teens know what good sleep entails and the benefits of making and sticking to a plan that supports good sleep, then they might re-examine their choices about what truly are their ‘essential’ activities," says Mary Carskadon, Ph.D., Director of Chronobiology/Sleep Research at the E.P. Bradley Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I. "The earlier parents can start helping their children with good sleep habits, the easier it will be to sustain them through the teen years." (source: National Sleep Foundation)

You may be years away from having a teenager, but let’s heed the experts’ advice to set up our kids for success with good habits and a comfortable bed now!