Expert Sleep Tips for Tween Families

by Tracie Kesatie, M.A., Owner & Founder of Rest Well Baby Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Sleep is one of the most important contributors to good health and development. However, adolescents are notorious for not getting enough sleep. During this phase in a child’s development, a lot of changes both internal and external are taking place that affect the sleep-wake cycle and long-term sleep habits.

Adolescents do not get enough sleep for a three key reasons, including:

  • Early high school start times:
    • Tweens aged 13-14 are beginning to transition from middle school to high school and experience a change in schedule – their school starts and ends earlier. Some high schools start as early as 7 a.m., meaning that some teenagers are getting up as early as 5 a.m. to get ready and make it to school on time. Considering an adolescent needs 8-11 hours of sleep per night, this would mean they need to be in bed and asleep by as early as 9 p.m.
  • Shift in sleep-wake cycle:
    • However, the change in school times is not in alignment with the body’s natural change during this phase of life. During adolescence, the body’s circadian rhythm, which controls sleep cycles, naturally shifts towards later bedtimes and later morning wake up times. This chance happens because a tween’s brain makes the hormone melatonin later at night than the brains of younger children and adults do.
    • This biological shift would mean that a teenager who used to fall asleep at 9 p.m. will now not be able to fall asleep until later (for example, 11 p.m.)
  • Increased stress, stimulation and responsibilities:
    • Tweens are being exposed to more activity and experience the most changes both internally and externally.
    • Increased stress and responsibilities (homework, extracurricular activities), increased socialization, emotional troubles, uncomfortable sleep conditions (too much noise, too much light, too much tech) and excessive exposure to blue light from mobile devices, laptops, TVs and other screens all negatively impact sleep.

However, there are expert ways in which you can help your tween get enough sleep

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule:
    • By the adolescent stage you should’ve already established a sleep routine and schedule, which should of course be adjusted to meet the life demands of this age group, including earlier school start times.
    • Talk to your tween and set a schedule that works for the both of you, while making sure they have adequate time actually sleeping in bed (ideally 9 hours +)
  • Avoid oversleeping on weekends:
    • It’s difficult to not imagine a tween sleeping until midday on the weekends, however, it is not conducive to better sleep habits. If this is a “treat” and a must-have for your tween, it is recommended the “sleep-in” day is on Saturday versus Sunday. Sleeping in until midday on Sunday can make it more difficult for your tween to fall asleep early enough Sunday night.
  • Build a relaxing nighttime routine:
    • A sleep schedule will be as successful as the routine that helps the tweens’ mind and body relax and prepare for sleep. Talk to your tween about transitioning this routine and figure out what relaxes them. This could be a nighttime shower with essential oils, followed by an audiobook or dedicated time for reading in-bed, etc.
  • Optimize the bedroom for sleep:
    • Remove all technology from the bedroom, including tablets, TVs, etc. If your tween has a hard time putting the phone down before bed, then install an analog alarm clock in their room and keep their phone overnight. The goal is to teach a tween how to fall asleep independently and not rely on screens to fall asleep. The blue light emitted from devices can actually impede the production of melatonin, thereby making it more difficult to fall asleep. It is recommended to turn off screens ideally 2 hours before bed.
    • Tweens begin to express their preferences – some may sleep hot and therefore like their room cold. Some may run cold and could really use a plush comforter or have anxiety and a weighted blanket would work nicely for them. A room that is optimized for sleep should be cool, comfortable and dark. One of the biggest threats to deep sleep is light pollution, especially for families living in densely-populated or urban areas. However, even in the suburbs a neighbor’s light or a street light could make a room too bright to fall asleep. I recommend my clients install blackout shades in their bedrooms and turn to companies like DIYBlinds that are ordered online and ship nationwide for free. Custom-made shades are not as expensive as people think and companies like DIY Blinds offer options starting at $50 vs. competitors with starting prices in the hundreds. For added sleep regulation, shades can be motorized and automated to fall at the same time each night and rise at the same time each day.
  • If your child expresses they have trouble breathing at night or have “stuffy nose” that impedes sleep, it is important to consider if they have any allergies – this could be to down feathers or chemicals in wrinkle-free sheets. If this is the case, it might be worth looking into non-toxic bedding options like Nest Bedding.
  • Avoid caffeine (particularly in the late afternoon):
    • Try to limit high sugar and caffeinated food and drinks (chocolate, soda, iced tea, coffee, etc.), particularly in the afternoon since caffeine is a natural stimulant that promotes alertness and keeps you from feeling sleepy.

All in all, it is important to keep in mind what you can and cannot control and work with your tween to ensure they are involved in solving their own sleep issues. You can get your tween’s input by asking about what makes it harder for him or her to get to sleep, or what keeps him or her awake. Then, work together to choose a daytime or evening habit and routine that works for them.

Get to know your tween and help them create the lifestyle choices that work best for them. For example, if your tween isn’t tired in the evening and doesn’t play sports, they may need more physical activity each afternoon. It is always a good idea to praise your tween for positive lifestyle changes like you would good behavior or scholastic achievement.