Ten tips for parents to help teenagers get sufficient sleep

Encourage them to stick to similar sleep and wake times through the week and to avoid prolonged weekend lie-ins

Parents might feel powerless in helping teenagers get sufficient sleep, but it’s too important an issue to ignore. Here are 10 tips.

  1. Be aware teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night and habitual sleep deprivation will affect every aspect of their life.
  2. Encourage them to stick to similar sleep and wake times through the week and to avoid prolonged weekend lie-ins.
  3. Foster a teenager’s self-motivation for sleeping well. If they play sport, zone in on how sleep will improve their performance; if they wish they were taller, tell them this should help. “It’s a matter of finding the USP for your child,” says sleep expert Lucy Wolfe.
  4. Before allowing your child their first mobile phone, make handing it over before bedtime a non-negotiable condition. Try to stick to that habit through the secondary school years.
  5. If your teenager does keep the phone overnight, as the majority do, it will be harder to persuade them to leave it elsewhere at bedtime, or at least switch it off. A “whole house” approach, with the wifi off for all, may be one option.
  6. Keep all conversations about this positive, for example: “I’m here to support you”. As parents, we can fall into the trap of lecturing and nagging, says Fiona Hughes of Jigsaw, and then “we get ‘mentally muted’ by young people – they just switch off”.
  7. Pre-bedtime routine for winding down is key. Too much caffeine (such as energy drinks), sugar and fast-paced exercise too close to bedtime will make it harder to fall asleep. As will having a screen on in the dark, whether it’s to watch Netflix or scroll through social media. Triggers more conducive to good sleep include having a bath/shower, reading or listening to music.
  8. If a teenager can’t fall asleep, it’s a mistake for them to lie there ruminating for more than about 15 minutes, getting sucked into spiralling thoughts or taking out the phone as a distraction. Advise them, suggests Hughes, to get out of bed, sit in the room in dim light and do a relaxing activity, such as reading a book, mindfulness colouring or listening to music – but not using their phone for that. After 10 minutes they should get back into bed and repeat the cycle if necessary.
  9. For those preparing for State exams and who are tempted to cram late into the night, discuss the best use of time. If they are not getting enough sleep, memory, information retention and concentration are diminished, “so it’s cost-benefit analysis”, suggests Wolfe.
  10. Don’t give up. If you have discussed healthier bedtime habits with your teenager but are still concerned they are not getting enough sleep, “go back and say ‘let’s try again’,” says Hughes. “This is so important and so crucial to their mental health.”
  • Jigsaw, the youth mental health charity, can offer information and support both online and in-person. Find out more at jigsaw.ie
Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, family and parenting