6 Strategies to Help Your Teen RESTore

The third and final post in this week’s series on Sleep for Adoptive Parents and Their Teens

When Daughter #2 came home from Guatemala, she was 10 months old and had been used to sleeping in bed with her foster mother. So I promptly put her in a crib. The first several nights were awful—as were the days. Then a dear friend handed me a book* and said “Read it and do what it says.” It was tattered, dog eared, and had been passed around to several families in our church. It was our salvation.

I did what my friend said, and what the book said. The next night I put our daughter to bed earlier, like 6pm, and she slept through the night. The next morning, she woke up a different child. Instead of being cranky and anxious, she was happy and loving. All she needed was a good night’s sleep.

With that lesson under our belt, and the rest of what the book taught us about children and sleep patterns, we encountered a decade of relatively blissful sleep in our house. Our girls were “good sleepers” and typically went to bed easily and woke up happy. And my husband and I could get a few hours of adult time in each evening.

But now that our girls are teenagers, their sleep patterns are naturally shifting. They still go to bed easily, but bedtime seems later every year. So, my husband and I have learned to reschedule our evening adult time to our morning coffee time. We now go to bed shortly after our girls. By 10 pm, the house is dark.

So, Daughter #1 and #2 are getting on average 8.5 hours of sleep a night on week nights. That’s better than many of their peers, but it’s still not good enough. According to every expert out there, teens need 9-10 hours of sleep a night. When they’re sleep deprived they are irritable, have trouble waking up, fall asleep in the afternoon, see a drop in their grades, and sleep for long periods of time on the weekends.

So, here are six strategies we’ve settled on for trying to get some sleep routines in place for our teenagers:

  1. No cell phones in the bedrooms at night. I suspect that cell phones are the #1 distractor for teens getting their sleep. Who can ignore that message ding? Once we established the Phones on the Kitchen Counter at Night rule, we saw immediate results.
  2. Put the homework away. We know our daughters. If they haven’t finished their school work by 9pm, they’re in no frame of mind to keep going. They’ve spent their intellectual capital for the day. We know that a late assignment isn’t going to be the end of the world; if they lose a point or two because their paper is late, so be it. The whole process helps them learn that to get the grades they want, they need to prioritize their time so they don’t let their school work drag on into the evening.
  3. Start the “getting ready” phase early. What used to be a simple brush of the teeth bedtime ritual has now morphed into quite a primp session. And two teens sharing one bathroom takes even longer. So, we start the process about 30 minutes ahead of lights out.
  4. Avoid deep discussions or potentially controversial subjects right before bed. Our girls’ bodies are tired, but not their minds. Bedtime is often the time they’re ready to “talk” – usually about their birth mother or their adoption. But by then my husband and I are spent physically, intellectually, and emotionally. We just can’t. So, we say a quick prayer for energy and concentration, give them a few minutes to say what they need to. We repeat it back to them so they know we heard, empathize with them, and promise that we’ll pick up the conversation tomorrow when everyone is rested and there’s more time. And then we try really hard to keep that promise..
  5. Let them read to you. Reading aloud can still impact the parent-child bond, even if that child is a teen. (Have you read The Reading Promise? Excellent book.) Our girls love to read to us from their current romance or mystery. They fill us in on the plot developments, their character voices are awesome, and there’s typically a vocab lesson or two in the process. Sometimes after a few pages, they’ll turn the book over to us to read out loud to them. Sweetness.
  6. “But I’m not tired.” Remember that naturally shifting sleep schedule teens get? Yep, this is it. Sometimes, they really aren’t tired when we think they should be. When this happens, I tell them they can read for a while, kiss them good night, shut the door, and don’t go back in into their rooms. This gives them some autonomy and control of their own schedule, and it shows them I’m trusting them to make a good decision about their sleep. Typically, the light under their door has disappeared within 10 minutes.

If you’re getting the sense that we tuck our teens in at night, then the answer is yes. Calls of “I’m ready!” still roll down the hallway. A few kind words, sometimes a prayer, sometimes holding a hand until they fall asleep. I’ll gladly do it for as long as they still need it and want it.  Daughter #1 is starting to head off to bed on her own some nights, and that’s OK, too. Sigh.

Oh, that magical book I mentioned at the beginning? It’s called Happy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Dr. Marc Weissbluth.  And there is a chapter on adolescent sleep needs. I know because I double checked.

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