- I’m guessing that you pay for their phone and internet (as well as everything else in their life), so you can make the rules. Phones and laptops should be plugged up in the kitchen or somewhere outside of your teen’s bedroom.
- Have a schedule for your teen’s sleep that does not, under normal circumstances, change from day to day.
- Focus more on the wake up time for your teen and put less emphasis on bedtime. There is a saying in martial arts: “Control the head, control the body.” I think it is a very true statement to say “Control the wake up time, control the bedtime.” Ask any drill sergeant.
- Most parents have an instinct about whether their teen is more of a night-owl or morning lark. Use that information to help inform her school as to when it might be best for her to have a study hall and when her AP calculus class should start. For a typical night owl (phase-delayed) teen, first period calculus is probably not going to put your child in the best position to succeed.
- There is no such thing as a teen who “can’t sleep” so try not to use that phrase when your teen struggles to fall asleep at night. Relax about the situation and encourage your teen to feel the same. Sleeplessness from time to time is common and normal, just like it’s not that uncommon to arrive at lunchtime and not feel that hungry. Develop a plan for sleeplessness that does not involve technology, and do not let a difficult night alter the sleep and daytime schedule you have established with your teen.
- The difference between “sleeplessness” and “insomnia” is all in the emotional response to being in bed awake. It is nothing to be feared. When your teen complains of not being able to sleep, it is important to recognize the situation and their feelings, but equally important to provide the proper framework. Terror and anxiety is not the proper framework. Rather, a conversation like, “Difficulty sleeping is normal and okay. Don’t worry, it is scientifically impossible not to sleep. Let’s get up, have some breakfast, and shower, and I’ll bet you will feel good. Keep your schedule today and I’m sure you will sleep fine tonight.” Acknowledge, but do not amplify.
- What is your teen doing all day? Up for a run in the morning, swimming at a community pool with friends, read, pick-up basketball game? Or, is your child basically on technology all day? Proper sleep at night requires a dynamic day full of natural light, social interaction, and exercise. These should be as negotiable as personal hygiene and teeth brushing.
- Pay attention to a teen that wants to sleep all of the time, is falling asleep in class, or someone who never feels rested. Disorders of hypersomnia are some of the most missed and misdiagnosed disorders in teens, and the health and lifestyle consequences can be severe. Insist on seeing a sleep specialist if you feel there is something going on.
- Long-term sleeping pills are not an appropriate solution for teens when it comes to your sleep. If your teen has been put on any medication to “help them sleep,” as the prescriber for 1) data on how it improves sleep, and more importantly 2) data on how it has been shown to improve teen performance. Another fair question to ask is whether the drug has any FDA indication whatsoever for sleep in teens. It is staggering to me how many clinicians prescribe drugs that are useless or even harmful to teens.
- Keep in mind that a 2013 study of pediatricians around the world showed that the average doctor had only received about 4 hours of training in the entire subject of sleep with 23% reporting having received zero training. That would not be problematic were it not for the fact that these are among some of the most common complaints in teens. Do not assume anything when it comes to the physician managing the sleep health of your teen.
Chris Winter, MD, neurologist, sleep specialist, and author of The Rested Child: Why Your Tired, Wired, or Irritable Child May Have a Sleep Disorder–and How to Help.
Check out his book on Amazon!