What We Really Need to Know About Our Teens’ Sleep


Part 2 in this week’s series on Sleep for Adoptive Parents and Their Teens

Parents are first responders when it comes to teenage sleep habits so it’s best that we have all the information we need. Here are the top 9 things I needed to understand about my teens and their pillows, information courtesy of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. I hope it helps you, too:

  1. When a child hits adolescence, they start to experience a natural shift in their circadian rhythm called a “sleep phase delay.” Basically, their need for sleep gets shifted by about 2 hours, so they’re not naturally tired until 10 or 11 at night.
  1. Although our teens may be going to sleep later, they still need a nightly average of 9 hours of sleep. However, because they have to wake up early for school, they often don’t get the amount of sleep they need. So, it’s important for them to get to bed on time.
  1. Ignoring this need for 9 hours of rest only makes it worse. Come Friday, many teens are worn out from the sleep they’ve missed. Trying to “catch up” on sleep on the weekend only throws their body clocks off even more, making it harder for them to fall asleep and wake up on time the next week.
  1. Caffeine in chocolate and soft drinks, and nicotine, make it difficult for teens to get quality sleep, so does staying up late to study, play video games, hang on social media, or binge-watch TV or YouTube.
  1. Teens make sleep a low priority. To them, it interferes with all the other things they want to do: sports, school activities, their part time jobs, hanging with friends. It becomes a contest to see who can get by on the least amount of sleep.
  1. This daily battle against sleepiness affects their participation in school and on the job. It makes them grouchier and more irritable. It can evolve into depression. It also puts them at a greater risk of getting in a car accident or hurt on the job.
  1. Our teens’ sleep habits begin to form when they’re tweens, and are firmly set in their lives by the teenage years. Thus, teenage sleep problems can continue well into their years as adults.
  1. If our teens have any of the following signs, odds are they’re not getting enough sleep:
    • Has trouble waking up most mornings.
    • Acts irritable in the early afternoon.
    • Falls asleep during the day.
    • Has a sudden drop in grades.
    • Sleeps for long periods on the weekends.
  1. What can we do?
  • Pay close attention to how our teens sleep, act, and feel.
  • Help them manage their time to make wise choices. Help them to prioritize their homework over hanging out; help them learn to say “no” to certain opportunities so that they’re not over-scheduled.
  • Help your teen avoid caffeine in chocolate and soda, and refined sugar after 4pm.
  • Limit their evening “screen time” – including phone, TV, video, computer.
  • Help them develop a proper view of sleep as something as important to their health as eating right, exercising, and not smoking.
  • Speaking of which, make sure they get regular exercise.
  • Limit any naps to under 1 hour.
  • Limit sleeping in on the weekends to no more than 2 hours past their normal rise time.

This is a start. In Friday’s post I’ll share some additional things we’ve found that work with our teenage daughters.  In the meantime, follow along on Facebook for more insight into your teen and their sleep.