Ask the Experts: How Do I Get My Teenage Night Owl to Sleep?

How you can instill healthy sleep habits in your teen, from limiting electronics before bed to creating a family evening 'cooldown' routine

night owl teen on phoneQ: What’s the best strategy for getting teens to go to sleep at a reasonable hour? They are usually up past when we go to sleep, so it’s hard to monitor!

A: First, make sure lack of sleep really is causing issues around your kid’s daily functioning. Biologically, it’s natural for teens to feel alert late in the evening.

If there are issues, call a family meeting to discuss improving everyone’s sleep habits. This approach means no one gets singled out, which lessens the likelihood of your teen becoming defensive.

Introduce the topic. “I wanted to call everyone together today to discuss our sleep schedules. I know I’ve been feeling more tired than usual lately, and I wanted to brainstorm ideas to help us all get more rest.”

Emphasize the importance of healthy sleep habits. Not getting a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night can lead to irritability, mood swings, lack of focus, trouble staying awake in class or at work, drowsy driving and other issues. Chronic lack of sleep can contribute to depression, obesity and other health problems. And “catching up” on sleep is a myth; a longer night of slumber actually messes up your sleep cycle.

Suggest ideas to help everyone feel more rested:

  • Remove all electronics from the bedroom, including smartphones, gaming devices and computers.
  • Have everyone turn in devices to a central location at 10 p.m., then making them accessible again in the morning.
  • Institute “cooldown time” at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Cooldown activities could include reading, drinking decaffeinated tea, listening to relaxing music and meditating.
  • Make an evening schedule that ends at a predetermined time, such as 10 p.m. It can be the same time from day to day, or vary. The important thing is to set limits about what you can accomplish before bedtime.
  • No caffeine for at least seven hours prior to bedtime.
  • Clean up bedroom clutter weekly. A messy room can contribute to sleeplessness.

Ask your family for feedback. What suggestions do they like or not like? Do they have additional ideas? Together, select at least three things you’ll do as a family and flesh out those ideas. Once everyone is happy with them, write them down in a place that’s visible to everyone. Ask everyone to report back in two weeks. Do they feel more rested? What suggestions worked best?

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