Tweens and Sleep


Parents, I don’t need to tell you three obvious things:

  1. Sleep is critical to our well-being (no matter what age you are). Ask any primary care physician or therapist.
  2. Tweens and teens need more sleep than they get (need an average of 9-10 hours, but almost half get fewer than seven); and,
  3. Our ability to direct--forget control--our teens’ sleep habits is quite limited.

With these 3 points in mind, here are my humble suggestions:

  • Start early.  Start putting sleep hygiene rules in place during the tween years when they are more apt to listen and comply. After nailing down the requisite hours, Lisa Damour suggests the following when it comes to the #1 threat to good sleep for tweens & teens  (namely, digital devices): “When your sixth grader lobbies for a phone of her own, use her burning need to text with her friends to lay down rules that will support her sleep: all technology stays out of her bed (better yet, her bedroom), shuts down an hour before bedtime, and charges where it won’t bother her at night. If she balks at these rules, let her know that you’re holding yourself to the same standards; they are as necessary for adults as they are for tweens and teens.”
  • As a family, remove screens from the bedroom areas. TVs, laptops, hand-held devices, and smartphones should be powered down and stored until morning light. The passive light emitted from even small handheld devices and phones can miscue the brain and promote wakefulness.  Find other calming ways to relax and wind down like a shower or reading a book.  Make sure you are modeling this behavior for your tweens. And, yes, you might have to buy alarm clocks instead of using the smart phone alarm feature.
  • Advocate for later start times for middle and high school. The research is there to support you! Teen’s biological clock shifts forward in adolescence due to the fact that melatonin is secreted later. Eleven o’clock is the natural sleep start time for teens. It won’t work for parents to force a teen to go to sleep too early.  This is not defiance…this is biology. Kudos to Durham Public Schools for instituting the change in SY2016-17!
  • Take advantage of the upcoming Sleep Transformation Challenge seminars to learn more. There are six lunch-n-learn seminars scheduled during the next six weeks.  I’m especially interested in the one on “Teens and Sleep: Why it’s so important”. Hope you can join me either in person or via WebEx.
  • Pay attention to ongoing disordered sleep in your tween.  If your tween is still struggling after instituting some good sleep hygiene in your household, consider seeking professional help.  Some teens suffer from treatable sleep disorders like sleep apnea, reflux, narcolepsy, insomnia, and restless legs syndrome.

Remember, a brain that needs sleep will get it…even at the least opportune moments. Now, think ahead…to your sleepy teen behind the wheel. If you have dozed off while driving, you know this can happen to your adolescent. The Sleep Doctor advises, “Make driving rested as important as driving sober.”  Drowsiness and falling asleep at the wheel cause more than 100,000 car crashes every year. Sleeplessness is also linked to risk-taking behavior due to impaired judgment, depression and suicidal ideation.

Parents, if your tween or teen isn’t inclined to listen to you, please share the following links written to them as an audience:

And, if any of you have some brilliant ideas about sleep hygiene that have been tried & tested with your tweens and teens...with good results...please do share!


About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

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