5 Tips to Encourage Better Sleep Habits

a tired teen sits at a computer. for article on teens and sleep

As children head into another school year, we need to give attention to an important, yet frequently overlooked, aspect of their daily lives: sleep. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 80 percent of children are not getting enough sleep. According to research reported in the Journal of School Health, 92 percent of students in middle and high school get less than nine hours of sleep on school nights. When applied to the 10-12 hours of sleep per night recommendation provided by the Mayo Clinic, the average middle and high school student develops a 5- to 15-hour “sleep debt” in a typical school week.  Inadequate sleep is especially problematic during puberty when circulating hormones disrupt adolescents’ typical circadian cycle, which makes falling asleep difficult.

“Sleep Debt” Problems

Research indicates that short periods of insufficient sleep and accumulated sleep debt, recently labeled chronic sleep deficiency, negatively affects everything from academic performance, to indicators of mental health (e.g., self-esteem, depressive symptoms) to physical health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

In a study of 4th to 6th grade students, Dr. Sadeh and colleagues at Tel Aviv University found that just one hour of sleep loss for three nights in a row was associated with trouble concentrating and retaining information, difficulty assessing situations and solving problems.  The researchers also found that students with apparently “minor” sleep loss had poorer academic performance two years later than their peers who didn’t experience sleep loss.

Inadequate sleep has also been linked to poor mental and physical health. Research reported in The Journal of Child Health found that 5th to 8th grade-aged children who were short on sleep reported lower self-esteem, and more symptoms of depression and anxiety. The research also suggested the mental health consequences of inadequate sleep are greater for girls than boys. Inadequate sleep and chronic sleep deficiency is believed to play a substantial role in the development of obesity and other metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

Sleep and Hormones

Stanford University found that inadequate sleep was associated with changes in leptin and ghrelin, the key hormones in regulating hunger and stimulating appetite. Changes in these hormones can make it difficult for adolescents to distinguish between feeling tired and feeling hungry. This likely leads to excess calorie consumption.

In addition, tired teens are less likely to be physically active, further contributing to the risk of obesity.

Experts suggest that every teen get 10-12 hours of sleep every night, but this is a daunting task. School schedules, homework, demanding social and extracurricular activities such as band practice at 6:30 a.m., television, cell phones, social media and other internet distractions pose significant challenges to adolescents’ ability to get recommended levels of sleep.

Although daunting, helping your teens get the recommended amount of sleep is essential to ensuring their healthy development. Even though you may not get your teens to sleep 10-12 hours per day, it is important to help them get as much sleep as possible.

Here are some suggestions and tips to help teens establish good sleep habits:

1. Consistency is the key.

Once a sleep debt occurs, it takes several nights to restore that debt. Keep your routine as consistent from night to night as possible, even on the weekends.

2. Keep your teen’s schedule simple.

Limit extracurricular activities and help your teen prioritize his or her activities. Give your teen age-appropriate time management tools.

3. Set and keep a standard bedtime for your family.

You cannot force your teen to sleep, but you can model healthy sleep habits. You can also create an environment that encourages your teen to sleep. Create and keep a bedtime routine.

4. Turn off all electronics at least an hour before going to bed.

Eliminate electronics from your teen’s bedroom. Even “asleep” telephones and computers can be distracting.

5. Keep the time leading up to bed “relaxing.”

Encourage a warm bath or shower, reading (although not in bed), and other calming activities such as prayer or meditation. Avoid confrontations or conflict before bed.

This Evidence-Based Parenting article was supported by funds from the George Kaiser Family Foundation awarded to the Oklahoma State University Center for Family Resilience. Joseph G. Grzywacz is the Kaiser Family Endowed Professor of Family Resilience and Director of the Center for Family Resilience. 


Categories: Big Kids