Practical strategies to improve your teen’s sleep

Mother and daughter on couch PC

As teens go through a period of rapid physical, emotional and mental growth, sleep is more important than ever.

By working together with your teen, you can play a key role in helping them to improve their sleep. Whether it’s talking to them about their sleep, creating healthy guidelines or encouraging good sleep hygiene, here are some strategies to get you started.

Chat to your teen about sleep

Opening up a safe and non-judgemental conversation about sleep is a good first step.

You could start by expressing what you’ve noticed about their sleep habits. You might say something like: ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve been staying up late gaming and are really tired during the day. Could we have a chat about your sleep?’

From here, try to understand what might be causing any sleep issues by asking open questions. This might sound something like:

  • ‘How are you feeling about your sleep at the moment?’

  • ‘Is anything going on that’s making it hard for you to get enough sleep?’

  • ‘Is there anything that’s bothering you at the moment?’

You can also help them to understand the importance of sleep by chatting about the benefits of getting enough sleep.

Work on a regular sleep schedule

Encourage your teen to establish and maintain a regular sleep schedule. Keep in mind that they might be experiencing a shift in their circadian rhythm, which means they may not get sleepy until later in the evening.

Chat with them about how they might be able to gradually shift their sleep schedule to get 8–10 hours’ sleep a night. This probably won’t happen immediately, so you could come up with a plan to shift the time they go to bed forward by small amounts each week.

Encourage a relaxing bedtime routine

Teenager reading on couch with dog PC

What are some relaxing things your teen can do to wind down 30–60 minutes before bedtime? Together, you could brainstorm some calming activities, such as:

  • reading a book

  • listening to gentle music

  • taking a shower or bath

  • practising mindfulness

  • doing deep breathing or relaxation exercises

  • doing some light stretching or gentle yoga

  • journalling.

It can be helpful for them to follow the same steps each night, to reinforce in their mind that it’s time to unwind and get ready for bed. You could also start the routine together to help them establish consistency before they get into the habit of doing it themselves.

Help them to create a sleep sanctuary

Creating a sleep-friendly bedroom space can help set the stage for quality sleep. While this will look different for everyone, here are some practical ideas to try out:

  • Encourage them to keep the space clean and free of clutter.

  • Block out light with heavy curtains or an eye mask.

  • Keep noise down in the house, or use ear plugs or a white noise machine.

  • Try out soothing scents such as lavender.

  • Have a comfy mattress, pillows and bedding.

  • If possible, keep the room ventilated and at a comfortable temperature.

  • Decorate the space together.

For inspiration, share with your teen this article on how to get a good night’s sleep.

Take the lead

Not only can you set a good example by modelling the same things you’re trying to teach your teen (e.g. setting a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine and limiting screen time), you can also make sleep a family commitment. This might involve:

  • openly discussing as a family the importance of sleep, and sharing sleep-related personal experiences, challenges, goals or strategies that have helped

  • engaging in regular (and fun) family activities that promote physical health

  • designating ‘tech-free zones’ in the home, such as the dining room or living room (especially during mealtimes and before bedtime)

  • spending quality time together before bed, doing calming activities such as reading, playing board games, doing light stretching or yoga, meditating or journalling

  • creating sleep-friendly bedroom environments together.

Promote healthy daily habits

Having a healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact on your teen’s sleep. Some habits they can work towards could be:

  • regular exercise or movement during the day

  • eating a healthy diet with regular mealtimes

  • getting natural sunlight in the morning and daytime

  • doing things they enjoy and that boost their wellbeing

  • limiting stimulants like coffee, tea, energy drinks and soft drinks, especially in the evening.

Helping your teen to make small, incremental changes will likely be more successful than trying to change everything at once. Work together on ways to integrate these habits into their daily routines.

Set time limits

young man lying down on bed scrolling phone PC

Stimulating activities, such as device and technology use as well as homework, can contribute to sleep issues if they aren’t time limited. Explore the idea of setting time limits on these activities by:

  • doing a family screen audit to look at how often, and for how long, everyone uses their screens for school or work or leisure, or how much TV they watch

  • setting time limits for using devices, remembering that both of you may need to compromise

  • checking in with your teen to see how these time limits are going and changing them as needed

  • coming up with a homework plan for your teen that avoids them having to do too much late in the evening.

Assess weekly commitments

School, sport, social events, chores, jobs, study – teen schedules can get pretty full, pretty quickly. And with so much going on, they can easily become overcommitted.

Sit down with your teen and work out what they generally have on each week and ask them if they think it’s too much. We’ve put together an individual planner template that can help with this process. Managing the period around exam time can be particularly stressful – check out these tips for supporting your teen through this time.

If you and your teen both think they are overcommitted, see if you can cut down on some of their activities. For example, if they have four catch-ups with friends each week, could they reduce it to three? See what feels right to your teen and be prepared to experiment.

Get professional support

If you’ve tried some of these strategies and your teen is still having sleep issues, or you think they might have a sleeping disorder, it’s a good idea to get professional support.

Chat with your teen and see if they're open to the idea of seeking further help. Booking in with a GP is a good first step, as they can help with identifying potential causes, offering initial suggestions, or referring your teen to other professionals, such as a sleep specialist or a mental health practitioner. Learn more about professional support options here.

Be patient

As all parents of teens know, you might be met with some resistance, which is a normal reaction. Finding what works for your teen can take a little time, patience and flexibility (on both sides), but it’s important to stick at it. By being open, working together, and offering guidance and support, you’ll be able to help them build healthier sleep habits and boost their overall wellbeing.

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