Somehow, society has painted the picture that all teenagers are compulsive night owls and sleep in every morning.
While that may be so for many on weekends, parents shouldn’t quickly assume their teen is on the way to becoming a classic slacker just because they’re not out like a light the moment they hit the bed.
Sometimes, sleep may evade them because they had caffeine too late in the day or they stayed on the computer a little too long. Their body didn’t have enough time to wind down yet.
Other times, they may have done none of those things and, yet, they’re still struggling to sleep—tossing and turning for a long time.
It’s actually not uncommon.
While their body may be tired, their mind might be in overdrive.
Often, the problem is anxiety—excessive worries that make their thoughts race round and round their brain.
Although it’s most worrisome during school time—when the inability to concentrate the next day can cause academic problems—lack of sleep, or lack of quality sleep, can hurt a teen’s mental and emotional well-being at any time.
As a concerned parent, what can you do to help your child avoid becoming a chronic insomniac?
Consider some helpful tips you can share with your teen.
Tip #1: Get Out of Bed
Yes, you heard right. If your teen has honestly tried to wind down and sleep but is still awake more than 20-30 minutes after hitting the bed, they need to get up and do something else.
Why? Because staying in bed at that point may train their brain to relate their bed and bedroom with sleeplessness, worries, and anxiety.
So, what can they do after getting up? It’s likely late and pacing around the house may keep others up. But there are a few possibilities.
Tip #2: Eat a Snack
Time to satisfy those midnight munchies! While eating that late in the day is not healthy by any means, the right carbohydrate snack can help your teen’s brain regulate sleep by encouraging the production of serotonin.
The trick is not to eat anything too heavy that could slow down digestion and hinder sleep nor something too sweet that could just keep them up longer. A light carbohydrate snack, such as a small serving of whole-grain crackers or popcorn would be best.
Tip #3: Put Worries Out of the Mind
It doesn’t have to be negative worries—really anything that’s ruminating in your teen’s mind can keep them up. Maybe it’s a special event they’re eagerly anticipating or something they’re looking forward to accomplishing.
Well, they need to get it out of their head and onto paper, so to speak. Making a to-do list can help get all those anticipatory worries to exit their mind and to a place where they don’t disrupt your child’s sleep. And if it’s a negative matter that keeps their thoughts racing, jotting their feelings down in a journal will do the same thing.
Whatever the case, those things can be dealt with the next morning, after a good night’s rest.
Tip #4: Read a Good Book
But not too good! As in, it can’t be too exciting. Otherwise, it will only stimulate your teen’s mind rather than calm and relax it.
Just have them watch the time—20-30 minutes should do it. Going through a whole novel in one night is obviously counterproductive. Plus, make sure they understand that a physical book (made from paper) is a better choice than one on a digital screen since the light from the device can further interrupt their sleep.
Tip #5: Listen to Something Soothing
That can be someone reading a book to them via an app*. Though, again, it’s important that your teen understands not to pick a story that’s not too exciting. And the nice thing is, they can turn the lights off, close their eyes, and just listen.
If they’re not into audio books or even podcasts, other soothing sounds can help lull them to sleep, such as soft music or nature sounds. The right kind of noises can help calm your child and take their mind off whatever is worrying them.
Tip #6: Focus on Breathing
But perhaps your teen would do better with something much more simpler than messing with all those electronic gadgets to help them relax. Why not teach them diaphragmatic breathing—deep breathing exercises from the abdomen.
It’s easy to do when lying down in bed, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. All they have to do is put one hand on their chest and the other on their stomach, and then breath deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth, making the hand on their belly rise and fall.
And if they ever want to be a bit more adventurous and find their zen while doing the breathing exercise, they can download an app* for guided meditation. The more your teen practices meditation, the more effective it will be. Though, it shouldn’t just be something they do when they can’t fall asleep.
Tip #7: Talk to a Health Professional
Of course, that’s not something your teen can do at night when they can’t sleep. But it’s something that can help them get to the bottom of the worries that keep them awake if insomnia is becoming more than occasional.
For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help a person identify and overcome problems that can interfere with sleep. In CBT sessions, your teen can learn to come up with solutions to each obstacle that presents itself. In the long run, knowing how to handle disturbing thoughts can serve them in more situations than just managing sleep troubles.
Above all, stress to your teen that sleep medications—over-the-counter or prescription—at not a good solution for dealing with the situation. They’re not meant to be used long-term, and some of them can be addictive. Natural remedies, lifestyle changes, or seeing a therapist should always be their first-line treatment of choice.
(*Note: Using smartphones to help with easing sleep problems may not be your first choice, but they can be good tools to help your teen calm their racing thoughts on their own. There are many useful apps available, but it would be prudent you search them out together with your child to help them make appropriate choices.)