Teenagers often struggle to get enough good sleep. It may take hours to fall asleep or they might wake up in a panic in the middle of the night. Sometimes they sleep ok but always feel tired. Teenagers still need 8-10 hours of sleep per night, even though their internal clocks have shifted to not get tired until later in the evening. Without enough sleep, school gets harder, focusing and memorizing are difficult and mental health is impacted. Not getting enough sleep can make all of us (adults and teens) more irritable, sad or anxious. 

If you are a teenager or the parent of a teenager who is struggling with sleep, here are a few things that you can do to help. 

Set a Sleep Schedule 

Going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning improves your sleep. Your body will get into the habit of falling asleep at that time and wake up feeling more refreshed in the morning. If you can, keep that schedule on the weekend as well (or sleep in no later than 1 hour), in order to help you get better sleep throughout the week. 

Start a Calming Bedtime Routine 

Your brain relies a lot on external cues to tell you when it is time to sleep. That is why you might feel tired earlier in the winter when it is dark so early. Our bodies use light to determine when we sleep but it can rely on other cues as well. So establishing a bedtime routine prepares your brain for sleep. Routines like putting on pjs and brushing your teeth help you start unwind and relax. But you may consider expanding your routine to include a few more things. 

Here are some ideas: 

  • Drink hot herbal tea
  • Journal 
  • Read a favorite book 
  • Listen to calming music 
  • Start a diffuser of essential oils 
  • Put on lotion 

Doing these activities consistently as part of your nightly routine communicates to your body that it is time to sleep and helps you fall asleep sooner. 

Reduce Screens 

The light from screens (including phone, TV etc.) mimics natural light and wakes up our brains. If you are having a hard time falling asleep, turning off all screens an hour before bedtime can make a big difference. 

Avoid Homework in Bed 

When you do school work, your brain becomes more alert, focused and possibly more stressed or frustrated. If you are doing school in the same place where you sleep (on or in your bed), your brain will associate your bed with school. As a result, when you lie down to sleep, you might start thinking about school or start feeling stressed and alert. Doing activities you enjoy on your bed, like talking to friends or watching TV can have a similar effect of keeping you awake as well because those activities make you excited and energized. As much as possible, only use your bed for sleep and relaxing activities. Anything that is stressful or exciting will keep you awake later on. 

Increase Physical Activity 

Being active and getting outside during the day can also help with sleep. Take a walk, go for a jog, jump on the trampoline, shoot hoops, chase your dog, dance! Anything that gets you moving during the day will help you sleep at night. Just avoid doing these things right before bed or in the evening, because that might wake you up more. 

Get support

If you are feeling a lot of stress, worry, sadness or loneliness, your mental health may also be impacting your sleep. If you try these things and are still struggling, reach out to a therapist for support. Learning to cope with whatever is going on for you can help you feel better and improve sleep. 

So I encourage you to try one or two of these strategies (or all of them! Why not?) and ask for help if you need more support. 

Melissa Winfield, PsyD
Melissa Winfield, PsyD

I help children, teenagers and parents find hope and resilience through the tough times.