Sleep tips for teens: how to sleep well, shut off your “busy brain,” and get up for school on time more easily

This post has tips for setting up your bedroom, improving your bedtime routine, quieting your busy mind at bedtime, and getting up on a school day more easily. It also has some tips to help you feel as awake and alert as possible in the daytime.

TIPS FOR SETTING UP YOUR BEDROOM TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP:

You might be using your bed for many activities, so try arranging your room to have three zones: one for sleeping, one for studying, and one for relaxing (this “zone” could be a bean bag chair or love seat, for example). Zones help keep your bed associated only with sleeping and not with video games, phones, eating, homework and so on. If space is tight, you could use one side of your bed for sleeping and one for relaxing. Your bedroom should be quiet, cool and dark. Use an alarm clock rather than a phone to wake up since your phone can be a source of stimulation (and it may be sending you notifications at night that will wake you).

 TIPS FOR IMPROVING YOUR BEDTIME ROUTINE:

A bedtime routine helps your brain “turn off” and prepare for sleep. Try to start the routine at the same time each night. Sample routine: putting away homework, turning off screens, having a snack, brushing teeth, taking a shower, and putting on pajamas.

 TIPS FOR QUIETING YOUR MIND AT BEDTIME:

When your routine is over, turn off the lights in your room except for a reading light and then get into bed to do something quiet and relaxing until you are very, very drowsy. Some good choices: reading, drawing, word finds, crosswords, puzzles, and audio books. If none of these work well for you, try a small laptop-style DVD player instead of a phone or computer to watch movies because these DVD players are not connected to WiFi so they have no social media and no notifications.

Be sure to use a relaxing activity in bed until you are very, very drowsy rather than lying in bed awake “trying to sleep.” Time spent in bed “trying to sleep” associates your bed with worry. Use one of the activities listed above again if you wake at night and this waking lasts more than 10-15 minutes.

TIPS TO MAKE GETTING UP EASIER:

Try to get up at about the same time each day, every day. Your weekend rise time would ideally not be more than 2 hours later than your school day rise time. This is sometimes called “school plus two.” So, if your school day rise time is 6:30 am, try to get up on the weekend by 8:30 or 9 am. This helps to keep to the “clock” in your brain set properly.

If you don’t do this and get up much later on the weekends instead, you will usually have what is called “social jet lag.” This just means that you will feel as fatigued every Monday morning as you would have if you had crossed several time zones. It will also be much harder for you to get to sleep on Sunday night because you have not had “wake time” to let your body know that it’s time for sleep again. (If you get up at noon on  a Sunday and then try to go to bed at 10pm, you will only have been awake ten hours instead of the 15-16 hours your body is expecting.) Consistent wake times will also improve your mood and decrease irritability at rise time on school days.

On the weekends, try to schedule something you enjoy at 9 am to make it easier to get up. This could be meeting a friend for breakfast or having a friend come over.

Keep in mind that there are four things that can help wake you in the morning, You can use the word “CALF” to help remember these: C is for Caffeine, A is for Activity, L is for Light (sunLight) and F is for Food.

–          Caffeine: Have a small cup of tea or coffee (8 ounces). This can help you feel more awake because caffeine is a mild stimulant and it “turns off” the body’s sleep hormones. Consume all caffeine before noon.

–          Activity: Get some light physical activity (walk the dog, do a yoga pose or two, stretch, walk to the bus stop)

–          Light exposure: Get some sunlight exposure right away. You can put your bed near a window and open the drapes or you can eat your breakfast outside or at the bus stop if the weather permits. If you get sunlight exposure at about the same time each day, it will set the clock in your brain for that rise time. Sunlight is a drug free and powerful stimulant that signals your brain to fully wake up.

–          Food: Have breakfast and choose foods with some protein (a shake, an egg, some nuts, or even a spoonful of nut butter).

TIPS FOR THE DAYTIME:

Minimize long daytime napping after school.  If you are very sleepy after school, take a nap before 4 pm if possible and for 30 minutes or less (to avoid going into deep sleep) is usually fine. To keep naps short, take this nap in a chair or on a sofa in a busier area of your home rather than in your bed.

Avoid a large late dinner. Try to finish dinner three hours before bedtime if possible because your body does not digest large meals well while asleep. A bedtime snack is fine!

Turn off all electronic devices, including the TV, video games, cell phones and computers, one hour before bedtime and blue light from devices should be blocked after dinner. Use night shift, night light, f.lux or similar settings to do this. Devices with lighted screens make your brain think that it is still daytime. These devices are also very stimulating and make it much easier to ignore drowsiness. Finally, devices invite cyberbullies right into your bedroom.

 THE TOP TWO TAKEAWAYS TO KEEP YOUR SLEEP ON TRACK:

  • Use a relaxing activity to distract your busy mind until you are drowsy and can drift easily into sleep (and use this again at night if you can’t get back to sleep)
  • Keep your rise time within a two-hour range if you can seven days a week.

These changes are not easy but they are worth it: great sleep makes everything better!

 

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