6 Tips for Helping Your Anxious Teen Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Adequate sleep is vital for every age group, but it’s especially important for teens. Experts say that teens need between nine and 10 hours of sleep every day to accommodate their fast physical, intellectual and emotional growth.
Unfortunately, today’s teenagers face a significant amount of stress and anxiety, and the problem seems to be growing at an alarming rate. In a U.S. nationally representative study, researchers found that from 2007 to 2012, there was a 20 percent increase in health-care diagnosed anxiety among youth 6-17 years old. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted school and permanently altered the lives of young people.
Increasing school and social demands, the pressure to succeed and complex body changes can all weigh heavily on your teen’s mind, leading to a restless night’s sleep. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help your teen manage their anxiety and ensure they get the rest they need.
Here are six tips for helping your anxious teen calm their overactive brain and get back into sleep’s good graces.
1. Give your teen the tools they need to squash stress
Whether it’s a school dance, basketball tryouts or final exams, there will always be something in your teen’s life that stresses them out. That’s why it’s important to teach teens how to cope with their stress in healthy ways.
Here are a few invaluable tools and techniques to help your teen better manage their stress:
● Weighted blankets. If your teen tends to get anxious at night, consider gifting them a weighted blanket. Some research has shown that relaxing under the evenly dispersed weight of these therapeutic blankets can lead to lower anxiety and deeper sleep.
● Deep breathing. Deep breathing techniques, like 4-7-8 breathing and belly breathing, can help trigger the body’s relaxation response, putting your teen in a calmer state of mind.
● Mindfulness and meditation apps. Downloads of mindfulness and meditation apps like Headspace and Calm have skyrocketed in recent years, and with good reason. These apps provide an easy way for teens (and adults!) to take actionable steps toward managing their stress, staying in control of their emotions and reducing negative thinking.
2. Avoid overscheduling your teen
While it’s good for teens to have a structured schedule, too many activities can stretch them too thin and increase their anxiety. Between time spent in class, nightly homework, extracurricular activities, sports and part-time jobs, it’s important that your teen has a little downtime for themselves to relax. To help your teen find balance, make sure they’re balancing mandated activities (think piano practice, debate team and other things that might look good on a transcript) with ones that make them feel calm and happy.
Also, let them know that it’s OK to drop an activity or two! Contrary to popular belief, quitting can be the best decision for kids.
3. Encourage a relaxing bedtime routine
Even though your teenager isn’t a small child anymore, they can still benefit from following a consistent bedtime routine. When your teen does the same activities before bed each night, their brain begins to associate those activities with sleep, making it easier for them to drift off into dreamland.
According to the Sleep Foundation, bedtime routines are particularly helpful for reducing late-night stress and anxiety because they help us pump the brakes on anxious thoughts and rumination and encourage us to relax instead.
Rather than setting a hard-and-fast bedtime routine for your teen, talk to them about the importance of establishing a wind-down routine. Afterward, you can brainstorm activities that will help their brains separate the day from the night. This could be anything from taking a warm bath to listening to music or reading a book.
4. Create a sleep-friendly environment
Creating a relaxing bedtime routine isn’t the only way parents can help their anxious teens relax and get a better snooze. Having your teen sleep in a cool, dark bedroom environment can also go a long way in reducing their stress and improving their sleep quality.
● Set your teen’s bedroom thermostat at a comfortable temperature. Most experts suggest an air temperature between 60 and 67 degrees F.
● If you live on a noisy street, consider giving your teen earplugs to prevent extraneous noise from disrupting their sleep.
● Block out all light in the evening by installing blackout curtains. Alternatively, you could give your teen a weighted eye mask. These soothing eye masks create a pitch-black sleeping environment wherever they go, making them particularly ideal for students who spend a lot of time traveling.
5. Make sure your teen gets daily exercise
Helping your teen build healthy exercise habits is one of the best things you can do for their sleep, mental state and overall health. Engaging in moderate physical activity not only releases endorphins that make your teen feel calm and happy, but also helps, them sleep better at night.
Of course, getting a teen to sneak exercise into their day isn’t always easy. The key is to find an activity that makes them happy to work up a sweat. If your teen isn’t into traditional sports, try to keep an open mind and help them find something he or she likes.
Today’s teens are constantly connected to social media — and a growing body of research shows it’s not doing their mental health or sleep any favors.
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Adolescence, researchers studied the impact of social media on more than 450 adolescents. The results showed that greater social media use, particularly at nighttime, was associated with poor sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Establish clear boundaries for social media use and electronics in general. At nighttime, have the entire family put their electronic devices in a separate room. That way, everyone is held to the same rule, and your teenager won’t feel like they’re being singled out.
Be a Good Role Model
Telling your teen to carve out time for rest and relaxation while you’re clearly sleep-deprived and not coping well with stress isn’t likely to be effective. Teens are more likely to mimic what we do rather than what we say. To that end, take charge of your own mental health and rethink some of your sleep habits. You and your teen will be better off for it!