Parents often ask for help getting their kids to fall sleep and then stay asleep all night.
At least they do when they are little.
Teens often have trouble sleeping too though, but parents often don’t recognize these sleep problems and might not think to ask for help. They do likely see some of the issues that can be caused by a poor night’s sleep though, which can include irritability, sadness, a poor attention span, and hyperactivity, etc.
Why Teens Don’t Sleep Well
From being over-scheduled and having to get up early for school to staying up late on a screen, there are many reasons why your teen might not be sleeping well.
There are also many different types of sleep problems.
To understand what is causing your child’s sleep problems, ask yourself these questions and share the answers with your pediatrician:
- Does your teen sleep at least 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours each night?
- Does your teen have trouble falling asleep or does he just wake up a lot in the middle of the night? Or does your teen seem to sleep enough, but is still always tired?
- Does your teen snore loudly at night – a sign of obstructive sleep apnea?
- Is your teen taking any medications that could cause insomnia, such as for ADHD (stimulant) or allergies (decongestant)?
- Does your teen have poorly controlled allergies, asthma (late night coughing), eczema (frequent itching keeping him awake), or reflux?
- Is your teen drinking any caffeine in the afternoon or evening?
- Do you think that your teen is depressed or has anxiety, either of which could cause problems sleeping?
- Have you noticed any symptoms of restless leg syndrome, including a strong urge to move his legs when he is sitting or lying down?
- Does your teen have too much homework and is staying up late trying to get it all done?
- What does your teen do just before going to sleep?
- Does your teen fall asleep easier when he goes to bed much later than his typical bedtime or does he still have trouble falling asleep?
- Are your teen’s sleep problems new?
And perhaps most importantly, what is your teen’s daily sleep schedule like? What time does he go to sleep and wake up, including weekends, and does he typically take a nap?
Treatments for Teen Sleep Problems
In addition to treating any underlining medical issues that might be causing your teen to have trouble sleeping, it will likely help if your teen learns about sleep hygiene and:
- goes to bed and wakes up at about the same time each day, instead of trying to catch up on “lost sleep” on the weekends
- keeps his room bright in the morning (let in the sunshine) and dark at night
- avoids taking naps, or at least naps that are longer than about 30 to 45 minutes
- avoids caffeine
- is physically active for at least one hour each day
- doesn’t eat a lot just before going to bed
- turns off all screens (phone, TV, computer, video games, etc.) about 30 minutes before going to sleep
- doesn’t get in bed until he is actually ready to go to sleep, which means not watching TV, reading, or doing anything else on his bed
- gets out of bed if he doesn’t fall asleep after 10 to 15 minutes and reads a few pages of a book, before trying to go to sleep again
Did that work?
If you teen is still having sleep problems, encourage them to try some basic relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and deep breathing or abdominal breathing. You do them at bedtime and again if you wake up in the middle of the night.
I especially like the idea of guided imagery for teens, as they can focus on something they like to do, whether it is building a sandcastle on the beach, or going horseback riding, surfing, hiking, or playing baseball, etc. They should focus on the details of the story they make up, coming back to it if their mind wanders, and hopefully they fall asleep as they get caught up in it.
With the deep breathing technique, they slowly breath in through their nose and out through their mouth. They can hold their breath for a few seconds or breath into their abdomen too (abdominal breathing).
Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that might help your child relax at bedtime. They simply tense and then relax each muscle group of their body, one at a time, starting with their toes and working their way up. If they make it up to their forehead and aren’t asleep, then they should work their way down, perhaps doing 3 to 5 repetitions for each muscle group, or try another technique.
And be sure to talk to your pediatrician if your teen continues to struggle with sleep problems.
What To Know About Teen Sleep Problems
Although teen sleep problems are common, they can cause serious daytime issues for your teenager, which makes it important to learn about good sleep hygiene and that help is available from your pediatrician.
For More Information on Teen Sleep Problems
- Sleep and Teens
- Teens and Sleep
- Prevent Sleep Problems in Kids: Keep Technology Out of The Bedroom
- Why You Fall Asleep Part 1: Harnessing Sleep Drive for a Better Bedtime
- Why Are Teenagers So Tired?
- Five sleep tips for parents of tired teens
- Melatonin For Children? A Guide for Parents
- What Should I Do If I Can’t Sleep?
- Relaxation Exercises for Falling Asleep
- What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Last Updated on February 1, 2017 by Vincent Iannelli, MD