Healthy Teens: Sleep Continued
3. Teens will also benefit from developing and maintaining a consistent bedtime routine. While a bedtime routine may seem a bit childish to some teens, it' actually a tool that helps everyone to fall asleep more easily. Creating a bedtime ritual signals the body and mind that it is time to transition from the activity and stimulation of the day, into a state of relaxation and peace. Sometimes this routine can be strengthened and reinforced by establishing a two-part bedtime with a separate quiet period that precedes "light out." For example, suppose quiet time begins at 9:30 pm and "lights out" is at 10:00 pm. Using this example, at 9:30 all stimulating activities cease: homework is put away; TV and electronic games are turned off; phone calls, computer "chat," and texting discontinue because all of these activities stimulate the brain to work. Then from 9:30 to 10:00 relaxing activities are permitted and at 10:00 it's "lights out" time. In this way, teens learn to view the quieting and relaxing period as a bonus or extra privilege, and not as something childish. The quiet period can include any enjoyable, non-stimulating activity such as taking a warm bath or shower, relaxing hobbies such as knitting or needlepoint, listening to soothing music, writing in a journal, prayer, meditation, reading, or doing some gentle yoga. Environmental cues can also signal the body it's time to sleep: dimming the lights in the bedroom, drinking a warm cup of caffeine-free herbal tea, putting on a favorite pair of pajamas, and even applying a scented lotion reserved for bedtime use only. These cues signal the mind it is time to transition to sleep.
4. Beyond bedtimes and bedtime routines, youth should learn to structure their time so that important activities do not detain them from getting to bed on time. Teens should be encouraged to avoid procrastination. When teens postpone important tasks such as homework until right before bedtime, they will have a much more difficult time falling asleep. Teens become alert, tense, and more awake, if they wait until bedtime to cram for an exam or finish five pages of algebra.
5. Despite their best planning, sometimes youth do stay up too late. In this case it is tempting to take a nap the following day. However, it is generally best to avoid excessive napping during the day. When teens nap longer than 30 minutes, or nap too close to their normal bedtime, it alters their bodies' natural sleep cycle (circadian rhythm), making it more difficult to fall asleep at the usual time, and can create a vicious cycle of more sleep deprivation, and more naps. However a short, 10-20-minute nap, right after school can actually help boost mental alertness and improve performance.
6. It is best to avoid strenuous exercise like running, aerobics, weight lifting, or playing basketball right before bed, as these types of activities will release hormones into the body that cause people to feel more awake and alert. However, exercise in the late afternoon or early evening may actually improve sleep later at night.
7. Anxiety and worry are great sleep disrupters and prevent youth from feeling sleepy. For this reason, parents should avoid "heavy" or controversial discussions with their youth right before bed. Students can also reduce their anxiety and worry by planning to complete school projects ahead of schedule, and steadily working on an assignment, bit by bit, so that it is completed by the due date.
Chronic sleep disturbance (sleeping too much or sleeping too little) can be a symptom of a more serious problem such a depressive disorder, or drug and alcohol use. If parents are concerned about their teen's sleep patterns, the first step is to talk to their teen to see if something is troubling or disturbing them. If sleep problems persist, parents should discuss their concerns with a health care provider and/or a mental health professional.