Help Your Teen Sleep Better: 6 Tips From Pediatricians

Sleepy teen? Help them catch much-needed Zzzs with these doc-approved tips.

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Teens are busy, busy, busy. With all the late-night studying, homework and after-school social activities, it’s no wonder they tend to put sleep on the back burner. “It’s a really stressful time in their lives,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital and HealthiNation’s chief medical editor.

As a parent, and as someone who knows how vital sleep is for optimal health, it’s concerning when your kid is burning the candle at both ends.  “Parents across the board are worried that their kids don’t sleep enough. They see their teens tired, they see their teens having trouble waking up in the morning, [and] they’re getting reports that their teens are falling asleep in school,” says Alok Patel, MD, a pediatrician at New York Presbyterian-Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.

The good news? You can help—and pediatricians recommend that you do. “Teenagers need parental guidance to help them [sleep] because it’s too much for them. I mean, some of the kids in the competitive schools say, ‘we don’t go to bed until 1 AM if we have an exam the next night,’” says pediatrician Dyan Hes, MD, medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City. Here are some proven (yet realistic) tips to coach your teen to get better sleep.

1. Treat sleep like an important health tool. “Teens and adolescents can really focus on sleep as a health tool, something that their bodies need, just as much as exercise, just as much as nutrition,” says Dr. Patel. “It doesn’t matter if they’re in band, they’re a writer, they’re a cheerleader, [or] they’re in speech and debate. Getting more sleep will always give them a better performance.”

2. Leave tech devices in another room. It’s hard for teenagers to wind down these days, says Dr. Hes. “Getting on your phone or getting on your device just worsens their not falling asleep because they’re stimulated by their phone or their game,” she says.

“A lot of parents are now having their kids keep their cell phone and iPads in another room and not in the bedroom that they sleep [in]. Because every time they get a text and a bing, it’s hard not to see it,” says Dr. Parikh.

3. Avoid letting them sleep in on weekends. “If we get in the habit of sleeping four, five, six hours a night, then trying to catch up on weekends, your circadian clock gets a little thrown off. Which is why we don’t like the term, ‘catch-up sleep.’ Your body can’t actually catch up on not being rested. So we recommend, and again we realize this is difficult—high school parties!—to tell teens to go to bed at the same time every night,” says Dr. Patel.

4. Check in to help them stay on schedule. “What I recommend is that the parents become involved. Check in with them. [Ask,] ‘have you showered yet? Have you done your homework yet? Have you packed your book bag?’” says Dr. Hes. “For kids who need more sleep I say leave your clothes out the night before. I’m talking leave your socks out, leave your underwear out, because those kids might need to sleep until the last minute until they run for that bus,” she says.

5. Help them wind down. To help teens relax at the end of the day, suggest that they read a book in bed or take a hot shower, say Dr. Parikh. “Have the room lit in a way where you have 30 minutes to an hour to unwind,” she says.

6. Set a good example. “The most important thing for parents, adults, everyone to know is that we set an example. If we’re up late at night having a cocktail and going to bed at 2 AM, what behavior are we modeling for our children?” says Dr. Patel. “Sleep is a vital function for everyone. This starts at an extremely young age and I think it’s important for parents to realize, that if we want our teens to take sleep seriously, we need to take it seriously,” he says.