In this episode of the Teenage Kicks podcast, ‘Sleep Whisperer’ Dr. Chris Winter talks to Helen about how to recognise sleep problems in teenagers, and what they need us to do to help them. Dr. Chris says that he’s seeing more and more incidences of sleep disturbance in his clinic, especially in teens and young adults. Listen to the podcast, and read on for some of his sleep tips for teenagers.
Should I let my teenager sleep all day?
As a parent, it can be difficult to understand why teens stay up so late and struggle to get up in the morning. There’s a temptation to label them as lazy, but Chris says there is a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that your teen is not lazy. Listen to the podcast to hear the science as to why teenagers are naturally more active later into the evening than younger children and adults and subsequently need to sleep later.
What time should teenagers go to sleep?
If you’ve reached the stage where you want to go to bed long before your teenager, welcome! Teach them to lock up and put the dog to bed and remind yourself how far you’ve come since the days when you longed for your child to go to bed so you could rest. On a serious note, a lot of us worry about how late our teenage children stay up at night, but whilst there do need to be some rules in place that prevent their body clocks from becoming nocturnal, it’s normal for some teens to be more active at night, and there are reasons why that might be the best way for them to maximise their potential in these years.
In fact, Chris suggests that as your teenager moves into their 20s, if this pattern continues and they become more of a night owl than an early bird, it’s worth paying attention to. Given the nature of the internationally connected workplace, and remote working practices adopted since Covid 19, the natural tendency of your teenager’s sleep timetable might help them decide what they want to do for a career.
Medical reasons for teenage sleep problems
Try to make sure things don’t get extreme though. If your teenage daughter or son sleeps all day and is up all night you need to take some action to reset their body clock. If it’s just poor sleep hygiene (maybe an obsession with gaming or chatting to friends online into the night) then a conversation about the importance of sleep, and setting some boundaries might help. After all, whatever their natural rhythm, and whether we like it or not, school and work have fixed hours, and if they can’t show up in a good place their future outcomes are going to be affected.
Rarely, there are medical reasons why your teenager struggling to sleep, or being excessively sleepy during the day, so if you suspect these do see a doctor to rule out anything serious. Some medical reasons for sleep problems are:
- Anaemia might make teens feel sleepy during the day. If your teenage daughter has very heavy periods it’s worth getting this checked out.
- Depression can cause teenagers to sleep too much, or have problems falling or staying asleep.
- Some medications can interfere with sleep, including contraceptive medication.
- Girls can have episodes of insomnia at certain points in their normal hormonal cycles. If your daughter experiences this, try to suggest building in extra self-care measures like exercise and relaxation techniques around this time.
- Sleep apnoea – this is a relatively common condition, although not usually in young people, where breathing is disruptive, making it difficult to stay in a calm, settled phase of sleep.
- Reflux – if your child was prone to colic and reflux as a baby this might still be happening as their body changes during puberty.
How do I calm my anxious teen?
Sleep anxiety in teenagers can become an ongoing problem though, especially if they’ve had difficulties sleeping for a while. In this case, your teen worries about not being able to get to sleep, or stay asleep, and that can add to the problem. In this case, Chris makes a number of suggestions to help, including seeing a sleep specialist if you need to.
In the meantime, here are some tips for calming an anxious teen mind at home:
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- Try journaling before bed – it can help to get anxious thoughts out of their heads and onto paper, to leave behind until morning.
- Try and make sure they get some exercise during the day.
- Use a fleecy blanket under your duvet. ‘Cocooning’ themselves can help a teen with sensory issues to feel more relaxed.
- Listen to a sleep mantra meditation, or white noise. Rainforest or ocean sounds can be very relaxing.
- Getting them to avoid caffeine in the evening can sometimes help. Pop a jar of decaf in the cupboard and gently suggest they switch after dinner time.
- Use a blue light filter for phones and laptops. Ideally your teen would have an hour before bed without technology, but we all know how difficult that can be to achieve so a blue light filter can help.
Listen to the podcast
Who is Dr Chris Winter?
Chris Winter is a sleep expert and specialist in sleep problems.
His book The Rested Child* helps parents understand when children might need their help, and why it’s not always helpful to focus on sleep hours. It’s a comprehensive guide to the varied sleep disorders that affect children from infancy to adolescence, many of which are commonly misdiagnosed, offering new wisdom to parents about how to ease their child’s troubles.
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Thank you so much for listening! I really appreciate every listener, and would love you to subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. And don’t forget to explore previous episodes that might be of interest to you or a friend – including losing a parent, being hospitalised with mental health problems, and battling an eating disorder.
I’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions for future topics on the Teenage Kicks podcast. Just email me on email@example.com, or you can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @iamhelenwills. I appreciate every message, and love to hear from my listeners.
For information on your data privacy please visit Podcast.co. Please note that I am not a medical expert, and nothing in this blog or in the podcast should be taken as medical advice. If you’re worried about a young person please seek support from a medical professional.
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