– and how much sleep do they really need? How to get your teenagers sleep back on track ready for school
Over the school summer holidays, many parents might have noticed their teenager’s sleep pattern falling apart; where they are rising closer to lunch than breakfast, and burning the midnight oil long past the clock strikes twelve. A daunting prospect with the new school term looming once again.
If you aren’t sure how to get their sleep back on track and whether you should be waking your teenager up in the mornings or letting them snooze all day in these last few days of the holidays, sleep technology firm Simba has teamed up with The Sleep Charity’s Lisa Artis, to help parents navigate the nocturnal nuances of teens and sleep, offering expert advice and tips to help them get a better night’s rest.
How much sleep should my teen be getting?
Teenagers are prone to staying up late and sleeping in, which means it can be easy to mislabel younger people as lazy, but it’s a fact that teens need more sleep.
It’s important that young adults get the sleep they need. Lack of sleep has been linked to a weaker immune system, obesity, depression, and impaired learning. Plus, it affects every area of their life, from friends and family relationships to school performance and general mood.
- It’s normal for teenagers to sleep more than adults – teenagers need between 8-10 hours of sleep per night, compared to 7-9 hours for adults
- When your teen goes to sleep matters – the best bedtime window is between 8pm and 12am because this gives sufficient time for all the non-REM sleep, we need to function optimally. Going to bed later increases the chances of lighter sleep
Should I make my teen go to bed earlier?
The biological changes in adolescence mean that a teen’s circadian rhythm changes and the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin, happens later at night. This means they naturally want to go to bed later and want to wake later too.
So, at the age of thirteen, your former cheery lark can rapidly morph into an irritable night owl. Sometimes, if a teen’s sleeping pattern drifts too far, they can suffer from a sleep disorder called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.
As the old adage goes, ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. Getting a teen to go to sleep ‘on time’ can feel like a bedtime battle that’s not worth having, and it’s not always necessary. Remember, you can’t force your teen to ‘feel sleepy’.
Genetics play a part in our innate body clock, and if parents are early risers or late sleepers, there’s a high chance your offspring will be too.
It’s better to respect the natural tendency of their circadian rhythm. As a result, some experts recommend that schools should actually start later to allow pupils to get more sleep. However, there is more discussion around extending the school day, so this is unlikely to happen.
In which case, if bedtime and corresponding rising time creeps later during the holidays, aim for consistency instead, encouraging them to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Keep an eye on the calendar
Having a routine promotes a more consistent sleep schedule, and without one, things can go awry. Sleeping in late or napping late in the day will stave off bedtime until your teen is living on a transatlantic timeline that’s at odds with the rest of the house.
Jet lag can throw a curveball and it takes one day per hour of time zone change to adjust. For example, if New York is five hours behind GMT, it can take five days each way to adapt.
With this in mind, try to make travel arrangements that give a short buffer zone before the start of term, to allow them to gently correct their sleep schedule before they go back to school.
To get them back on track, endeavour to get them up at the same time every morning, to help shift their body clock back to a more typical bedtime.
Can my teen catch up on sleep at the weekend?
It’s a popular misconception but you can’t ‘catch up’ on sleep at the weekend. A sleep deficit that’s formed during the week cannot be recouped.
Ever had a lie in on Sunday morning only to find you are wide awake on Sunday night? Teens need a consistent schedule, crucially, including weekends.
Weekend lie-ins disrupt the sleep schedule, so aim for the same bedtime and wake time every day. To catch up on sleep, go to bed earlier, rather than sleeping in, to keep the same alarm time.
The link between sleep and depression
Sleep is very important for your teen’s present and future mental health. You should always listen to a teen who is struggling to sleep and take their concerns seriously.
Problems sleeping are often one of the first signs of depression and can create a positive feedback loop of needing sleep, and not being able to get it.
One study, published in 2020, followed a large cohort of teenagers from age 15-24. The 15 year old’s who reported sleeping badly, but didn’t have anxiety or depression at the time, had a higher chance of depression by the time they reached 17, 21 or 24 years of age. While the significance of these findings is not well understood, it could mean that early management of sleep issues can reduce the chance of mental health issues in later life.
Getting quality sleep during the summer can be challenging when the mercury rises. Hot temperatures throw a wrench in our body’s cooling mechanism, causing us to toss and turn, struggle to drift off, and wake up more often during the night.
To help your teen beat the heat and ensure a refreshing night’s sleep during sweltering summer nights, reduce the temperature in the bedroom and use breathable cotton bedding and a cooling mattress. Simba’s patented Aerocoil® springs maximise airflow and ventilation through their Hybrid mattresses.
While the Simba Summer Hybrid® Duvet is a wonderfully light, 4.5 Tog duvet with the perfect level of down-like comfort to cocoon them to sleep, without weighing them down during the warmer months.
The new duvet featured ingenious Stratos® cool-touch technology on one side – making the fabric feel instantly cool to the touch, as well as enabling it to react to body temperature, dissipating any excess heat, to keep your teenager cool and dry (even when it has a cover on it) so they always stay at the perfect temperature.
While the new Simba Stratos Pillow offers a premium sleep experience at a budget-friendly price. Just like the Summer Hybrid® duvet, the pillow has a cool, sleep side treated with advanced Stratos® technology that feels fresh to the touch during sticky summer nights and wonderfully soft, cushioned support for the head and neck.
What else can I do to help my teen sleep?
These tips from Simba and The Sleep Charity will help your teenager [not to mention the whole family] get a better night’s rest.
Wear them out – regular physical exercise is extremely important. Just 20 minutes, three times per week will bring a host of health benefits. Instead of sitting around gaming, make time for exercise – whatever they enjoy doing most. Team sports are ideal for many reasons, but not everyone is athletic, so for the less enthusiastic, try and find a solo sport or activity they might enjoy – even gentle exercise like walking a dog, cycling, or stand-up paddle boarding will get them out in the fresh air and moving.
Make sure they are comfortable at night – create a sanctuary of peace and comfort, and they may just take an early night for once. Simba’s award-winning Hybrid® mattress range is designed to suit different budgets and to offer additional plushness and premium features as you go up the range.
The original, game-changing Simba Hybrid® mattress offers gravity-defying comfort and innovative solutions to overheating, thanks to Simba’s unique titanium Aerocoil® springs and cooling Simbatex® foam. What’s more, it has a washable, anti-allergenic sleep surface – perfect for teens.
If space allows, as they grow, now might be a great time to upsize their sleep station from a single to a double bed to give them more space to spread out at night. When choosing a mattress, also take into consideration the bed frame and the amount of support it gives. Simba bed bases are constructed using Simba Flex – a triple cushioned, responsive suspension system with both narrow and wide slats to support the shoulders and lumbar area.
Reduce caffeinated drinks in the house – going cold turkey isn’t much fun for anyone, and it is very difficult to control what your teen consumes outside the house. However, you can control what you buy for your family. Encourage them to consume less caffeinated fizzy drinks, tea, or coffee, and choose decaffeinated alternatives for your home. Alternatively, don’t ban it, but recommend a cut-off point around 5pm to lessen any impact on bedtime.
Choose a healthier bedtime snack – reduce sugary, processed foods and opt for low sugar cereals, crackers, and soft cheese as a better bedtime snack. Cheese and milk contain tryptophan, a sleep promoting amino acid.
Stick to mealtimes – eating too much or too little before bed can impact the on-set of sleep and for best practice, try not to eat more than a small snack less than 3 hours before bed.
Motivate them – are they idle, or is it a lack of things to do? A summer job, volunteering, or other rewards or goals can incentivise them to get off the sofa and do more with their free day.
Eliminate electronics in the bedroom – TV, games console, laptop, and phone are better left downstairs at night, otherwise the temptation to chat, watch television, or game will be too strong. Train them into good habits when they are younger; put a curfew on devices after a certain time and use parental control features where possible. Sleeping zones should be quiet, free from blue light, noise, and distractions. Equally, it’s good to turn them off for their mental health too.
Open their bedroom window – a stuffy, unventilated, smelly bedroom is a recipe for high CO2 levels, sluggish sleep, and morning grogginess. Fresh air improves sleep quality and creates better conditions for study, as it improves concentration. Too chilly to keep a window open? A freestanding HEPA filter will clean pollen, pollution and viruses from the air, helping with seasonal allergies and asthma.
Block out the light at night – our body clocks take cues from the circadian rhythm. Light and dark help control this process, darkness helps us produce melatonin and light suppresses it. A dark bedroom is crucial to encourage sleep, along with fully opening the curtains or blinds in the morning to let the daylight in. A SAD alarm clock or a timed wake up light that mimics the sun rising may help your teen wake up more naturally. Dimming the lights at night will help them feel sleepy.
Encourage a healthy sleep schedule – a proper wind-down routine should begin at least one hour before bed. The consistency of doing the same thing at the same time each night allows the body to recognise the cues for sleep. Stimulating activities such as playing sports, studying, gaming, or socialising (IRL or online) should not encroach on this window.
Give them a separate study area, if space allows – ideally one that isn’t in their bedroom so that they associate their room with sleep, rest, and relaxation. If that’s not possible, think about zoning areas of the bedroom – and avoid letting them study in their bed!
Bring bedtime forward – If their bedtime has become later and later, you can look to get it back on track by gradually bringing it forwards by 15 minutes every three nights.