This post is part of Best of the Best, Edition 8: Sleep Issues & Bedtime and Special Needs Kids.

Is your teen always tired? Does your teen find it difficult to get going each morning and cannot stay focused on school work or homework? Is your teen anxious, depressed, and irritable? Has he difficulty making and keeping friends? Have you considered that all the above could be caused by not enough hours of sleep or poor quality sleep?  Most teens, and especially special needs teens, suffer from inadequate sleep and the consequences can be serious to their health, to their education, to their safety, and to their social life. The National Sleep Foundation even goes as far as saying that sleep is vital to our well-being and as important as the air we breathe.

Teens with a sleep deficit are unable to concentrate, study, and work effectively and safely. They can also experience emotional problems, like depression and are at greater risk of having suicidal thoughts. The National Sleep Foundation even adds that lack of sleep can even cause teens to eat too much or eat unhealthy foods like sweets and fried foods that lead to weight gain.

Studies can state facts and findings, parents can state rules and repercussions, but no one can wave a magic wand and make a teen fall asleep.  So, how can sleep problems in teens be solved? Parents and teens have to work together and the first step is to convince your teen of the importance of adequate, quality sleep. Next convince your teen to make lifestyle changes to help him get his required hours of sleep.

Why Is It So Difficult For Teens To Fall Asleep Earlier?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests at least nine hours of sleep a night for high-schoolers. Unfortunately many teens have difficulty falling asleep early enough to get nine hours of sleep before their required wake-up time to attend school or summer work.

One reason is that there is a change in the circadian rhythm in teens due to the fact that the brain hormone melatonin is produced later at night for teens than it is for kids and adults. This can make it harder for teens to fall asleep early. During teen years, the biological clock in the brain naturally resets to a later time. The pineal gland releases melatonin later at night and this causes teens to fall asleep later. Then, in the morning, a teenager’s body clock is likely to still be producing the night-time hormones making it difficult for them to want to get up.

Lifestyle Changes May Help Teens’ Sleep Problems?

Earlier parental-mandated bedtimes must be accompanied by lifestyle changes that will facilitate your teen to fall asleep. Welcome his friends to your home and facilitate group activities so your teen has kids his own age to talk to, to have fun with and to help make him feel good about himself.  Happy, well fed, adequately exercised teens do fall asleep easier. Then try the following tips with your sleep deprived teen:

  • Establish a regular bedtime and routine that your teen agrees with and will try.
  • Have a consistent waking time throughout the week.
  • Schedule enough time to relax before the agreed upon bedtime.
  • Suggest taking a hot bath or showering before bed to boost deep sleep.
  • Provide high-carb snacks before bed. This makes a person feel warm and sleepy.
  • Have available chamomile or valerian herbal teas to help him feel sleepy.
  • Teach your teen how to handle stress so he does not carry his worries to bed—writing in a journal, yoga exercises, confiding worries to a good listener…
  • Help in learning visualization techniques to calm his mind and melt away the tensions of the day.
  • Encourage your teen to participate in daily physical activities inducing adequate quality sleep.
  • Get these physical activities done earlier in the day because exercise wakes you up and stimulates adrenaline, thus delaying the sleep cycle.
  • Eliminate drinking coffee, soda, energy drinks and other drinks and food with caffeine and sugar late in the day.
  • Encourage your youth to eat balanced meals and snacks.

Along with lifestyle changes make changes to your teen’s bedroom also. Try to motivate your teen to be involved in the new look and feel of his bedroom. By being directly involved it will help him accept the changes he must make to get to sleep fast, sleep through the night, and wake up refreshed.

  • Paint the walls in calming colors. Muted greens, blues, and purples, and neutrals like tan and gray, all seem conducive to a sleeping environment.
  • Keep his room cool (about 68 degrees) to cool his body to induce sleep. A fan may be needed.
  • Buy ear plugs if noise is preventing good quality sleep.
  • Arrange white noise, a bubbling aquarium, or sleep inducing music.
  • Put blackout shades in his windows and make sure his door is shut when he goes to bed.
  • Remove all electronics from the bedroom: computer, television, phone, cell phone, video games because media is a known stimulant.
  • Have a reliable alarm set so there is no worry of not waking up on time. Turn the clock around so he does not stare at the clock and worry of not sleeping.

If all your efforts and your teen’s efforts fail to get him to fall asleep earlier,easier, and sounder, you must consult a professional. Your family doctor would be a good place to start. If you choose to consult with a naturopath, he or she may prescribe melatonin supplements and/or light therapy. Whatever you do, be sure the problems with sleep are tackled early to prevent serious health conditions such as depression which are much more difficult to deal with.

 

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