Is your soon-to-be teen struggling with getting to sleep? Here's how to make sure your child gets the rest she needs despite the obstacles posed by puberty, smartphones, and stress.

By Diane Debrovner
December 06, 2019

If your tween balks about bedtime and insists that he’s not sleepy, it’s not just because he thinks he’s old enough to stay up later. As kids approach puberty, their internal circadian rhythms start to change, thanks to a phenomenon called sleep-phase delay. Their natural “bedtime” (triggered by the release of melatonin) and “wake time” shifts later, so they may have a harder time falling asleep before 10 p.m. or waking up when their alarm goes off in the morning.

However, experts say that kids this age still need nine to ten hours of sleep a night, so if your kid needs to wake up at 6:30 a.m., he should be going to bed no later than 9:30 p.m. Here are a few expert tips for making it happen.

Appreciate why getting enough shut-eye still matters.

It’s not news to you that feeling well rested can impact every aspect of your life. Kids this age have a lot on their plate, and being sleep-deprived makes it harder for them to focus, remember information, solve problems, and be creative. Getting a good night’s sleep also helps them manage stress and anxiety, get along with others, and deal with minor snafus and problems throughout the day. Long-term, not getting enough sleep can increase a kid’s chance of unhealthy weight gain, high blood pressure, risky behavior, accidental injuries, and even acne.

If you find that your child has a hard time getting up in the morning, dozes off during the day, is irritable in the afternoon, and sleeps for long stretches on the weekends, that is probably a sign that she’s going to bed too late during the week and not getting proper rest.

Be mindful of tech.

Since light from screens suppresses melatonin, your child should do homework that requires the computer first and save reading from books for last. Blue-light filters and dimming screens can help, but it’s best to turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. Although social media and texting are tempting for kids, spending time on their phone after they’ve finished their homework can stir up social drama and make it harder for them to fall asleep. Phones, tablets, and gaming devices should charge in the living room or the kitchen and never stay in your child’s room overnight.

Find a routine that works.

Tweens’ shifting biological clock doesn’t mean they can’t fall asleep at a reasonable hour—it just makes them better at staying awake when they’re distracted. That’s why it’s particularly important for them to learn how to unwind—mentally and physically—in a more deliberate way. Following a predictable pattern (have a light snack, shower, brush teeth, floss) every night cues the body to get ready for sleep. Being active during the day is helpful, but so is taking an evening walk around the block. Since oversleeping on weekends can make it even tougher to wake up on Monday mornings, your child should ideally sleep only one or two hours later than usual and then eat breakfast in a sunny spot.

Sources: Parents advisors Lisa Damour, Ph.D., author of Under Pressure; Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleeping Through the Night; Judith Owens, M.D., director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Parents Magazine