Sleepless Teens: Bedtime Issues & Hormone Wars

Teenagers and sleep. A tumultuous relationship at best. As hard to get into bed as when they were a toddler and then in the morning even a brass band won’t rouse them. Girls or boys, they both require as much sleep as when they were toddlers. Not only is their body maturing at a fast rate, but physiologically and emotionally changes are happening faster than you can say ‘grumpy teenager’.

Research shows that teenagers need an average of 9¼ hours of sleep each night to function at their best. This means they still need more sleep than an adult to function well and be alert during the day.

It’s not just about the quantity; it is also about the quality, and how much deep sleep your teenager gets. Research also shows that in the last few years a majority of teenagers only sleep for 6-7 hours a night, because of their attachment to social media.  So this is a major factor that affects our teenager’s lives and well being.  Having firm agreements with your teenager, regarding the amount of screen time they have and when they use it is crucial to setting up healthy sleep patterns.

During puberty, children start to secrete melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep; this happens later in the night than when they were younger. This affects their circadian rhythm and sleep windows. It means that your teenager will want to go to bed later at night and get up later in the morning. Which makes it hard for them to get up and go to school all bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Sunshine helps switch off melatonin, so the more natural light they, or probably you, let into their room the better. This may cause havoc at first as in my experience, a dark bedroom is better for viewing screens when they are playing computer games, and you can’t see the mess their room may be in! A healthy breakfast also helps to kick-start the body clock, once you have them out of bed. If they feel they can’t eat in the morning because they still want to be asleep, try a smoothy with lots of goodies in it.

Also, as their brains mature during puberty, teenagers are able to stay awake for longer, which is fine if they are able to sleep in, but this is not always possible.

Share the facts with your child about how a good night’s sleep can;

  • Improve energy levels, learning and concentration.
  • Maintain a  healthy body
  • ‘Clean up’ the brain
  • Help the immune system, so they can be healthier

This is great information to share with them, and most teenagers are aware of these facts but we are often up against disengaging them from their screens long enough for them to wind down and have a healthy sleep pattern.

As we all know lack of sleep can have a negative effect on behaviour, emotions, attention, social relationships and school performance

Adolescent sleep issues are often linked to what your child does during the day, not just at night. You can promote better sleep and address some sleep problems by looking at your child’s daytime behaviour.

In particular, your child needs to eat regular, healthy meals, enjoy positive social relationships, and get regular physical activity.

Physical activity has been shown to increase the total sleep time of children during adolescence. It’s not a good idea to play sport or be active late at night, though. The stimulation and increase in body temperature can make it harder to get to sleep.

Here are more ideas to improve the amount and quality of your teenager’s sleep.

  • The most important fact to focus on to help your teenager go sleep at a healthy time is to; TURN OFF ALL ELECTONIC STIMULATION in your teenager’s bedroom at least one hour before bedtime. This includes loud music, mobile phones, computer screens and TV. Switching off mobiles can be hard for young people, but late-night phone calls and text messages can mean broken sleep.
  •  Encourage your child to connect with friends during the day instead. T.V’s should be turned off at the power point to stop the invisible blue rays that are emitted from all televisions. These rays interfere with our brains and affect our melatonin and serotonin levels.
  • Discuss the importance of going to bed and getting up around the same time every day. Keep wake-up times on school days and weekends to within two hours of each other. This can help their body clock shift into a regular rhythm.
  • Be sure to allow plenty of time (for example, 40 minutes) for your child to do wind-down activities before bed. This way, they’ll be ready to catch the ‘wave’ of sleepiness when it comes. Good wind-down activities might be warm baths, warm drinks, writing in a journal, reading a book or magazine, or listening to quiet music.
  • If your child has a busy morning routine, encourage them to use some wind-down time at night to complete morning tasks, such as getting clothes ready for the next day, making lunch or getting their school bag ready.
  • If your child wants to nap during the day, make sure it is in the early afternoon. Gently wake them after 20 minutes, make sure you have made an agreement about this before they nap, or you will get your head bitten off. Daytime naps longer than 20 minutes can make it more difficult to get to sleep at night, and go into the deep sleep you need at night, and to wake up rested in the morning.
  • Change your child’s sleep space if necessary. A dark, quiet, private space is important for good sleep. Talk with your child about how their bedroom may be affecting their sleep.
  • If your child is ‘clock watching’, encourage them to turn the clock around or move it to where they can’t see it.
  • If your child can’t get to sleep straight away, they could try getting up and doing something relaxing like reading under dim light. When they feel tired, they can go back to bed. In the mornings, they should get out of bed when they wake up, rather than trying to go back to sleep. A snooze alarm can be helpful.(not you, use a clock)
  • Make sure your growing teenager has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can cause people to feel more alert or uncomfortable. This can make it harder to get to sleep.
  • Encourage your child to avoid caffeine (in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate) – especially in the late afternoon and evening.

It’s always a good idea to give positive feedback to your child when you notice they are trying to make changes to sleep patterns or are trying out strategies you’ve suggested.

Your teenager needs to be involved in solving their own sleep issues. Their input into strategies they think will work for them well help their self esteem and sense of self.

To assist them in making healthy changes to their sleep times, find out more about what’s causing your child’s sleep problems, try asking questions such as:

  • Does it take you a long time to get to sleep?
  • What makes it harder for you to get to sleep?
  • What are some things you think could help you get more sleep?

Your child takes new thoughts, stresses and worries with them to bed each night. Think about your child’s sleep in the context of everything else that’s going on – school pressures, friendships and new responsibilities. Your child could also try writing anxious thoughts in a journal. You could work on the problem together during the day.

You can also act as a healthy sleep role model for your child – for example, by winding down before bed, relaxing and managing stress, and reducing your use of stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime. Also taking televisions out of all bedrooms and have more family time.

Many parents are concerned that sleep issues are a sign of depression or their child is not coping with their life challenges. Some young people with depression often have difficulty falling asleep, have trouble getting up, feel very tired during the day, or sleep in very late in the day. But be aware and remember many healthy young people also have these issues. Being tired all the time can contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Often with counselling, extra vitamin and mineral supplements as well as a healthy diet (not always easy with a teenager), fatigue and overwhelming emotions can be turned around.

A change in your child’s sleeping behaviour – such as going to bed later than you’d like – isn’t necessarily a sleep problem. But your child could have sleep problems or be suffering from a lack of sleep if they:

  • lack energy or constantly feels tired
  • find it hard to get to sleep
  • repeatedly wake throughout the night and don’t go back to sleep
  • struggles to wake or refuses to get out of bed in the morning
  • naps for long periods during the day or falls asleep at school
  • struggles to concentrate or remember information
  • has very irregular sleep patterns from day to day
  • sleepwalks or gets up and eats during the night while asleep
These might be signs of a diagnosable sleeping disorder. But it’s much more likely that it’s a temporary problem that can be helped with some simple lifestyle changes, which I have mentioned.
Avatar of Arnaum Walkley

Arnaum has been a Parenting Counsellor for over 25 years, assisting and nurturing parents in developing their own unique parenting skills, and how to develop Conscious Parenting skills. In this time she has been involved in South Australia and other states and communities as an Early Childhood Worker, Breastfeeding Counsellor, Parenting Educator, Public Speaker, Counsellor, and Writer focusing on child development and parenting.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar of Beksmum

    My daughter is only 11 and I have so much trouble getting her to go to sleep! Its a constant struggle, because she is fighting it! Drives me nuts!

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