6 Nightmare Habits That Are Ruining Teenagers' Sleep

Top tips to keep your teen from turning into a daytime zombie.

Many teenagers today are sleep deprived. They need between nine and 10 hours sleep each night, yet most get about seven or eight hours of sleep. Some get less.

Sleep deprivation is akin to jet lag, where people don’t function at their optimum. It can be the cause of poor behaviour, mental health problems and low functioning in the classroom.

Sleep maximises brain growth, which occurs during adolescence. Sleep also consolidates learning. Sleep research has shown that the brain practises what it has learned during the day when a young person is asleep. So sufficient sleep consolidates past learning as well as keeps a young person fresh to maximise their future learning.

Sleep experts stress that while adults may not have control over biology we can assist young people to establish good sleep patterns. But first we need to eradicate some of their bad habits, starting with the following:

1. Being glued to a digital screen
Digital devices can be as addictive as drugs, and the blue light they emit can seriously disrupt sleep. (Image: Getty Images)

The digital devices a young person uses to roam through cyber-space are as addictive as cocaine, with similar arousal effects as well. The little blue light in mobile phones stimulates the brain keeping kids awake well into the night.

Tip: Get your kids away from digital devices at least 90 minutes before bed-time.
2. Sleeping in late on weekends
Sleeping in until midday on Saturday is a sure-fire way to disrupt good sleeping patterns. (Image: Getty Images)

The sleep-wake cycle for teenagers is delayed by up to two hours. That is, they are sleepy later and awake later than when they were children. Most teens secrete melatonin, which makes them sleepy, around 11pm.  Cortisol, the chemical that wakes them up, is secreted at 8.15am for many, so the adolescent brain wants to be asleep just when most have of us have woken up. Many teenagers catch up on this lost sleep on the weekend. If your teen is sleeping in until midday then his whole sleep cycle is being thrown out of whack.

Tip: Keep sleep-ins to an hour longer than normal to keep the sleep clock operating on a regular basis.
3. Spending all day indoors
Encourage teens to get off the couch and get outside -- their sleep will thank you. (Image: Getty Images)

Moping around the house is a huge part of the adolescent experience. However spending all day away from natural light is shown to lead to anxiety and depression, which are both causes and symptoms of lack of sleep. Put a cap on moping about and encourage them to go outside – take a walk, meet a mate, do an errand.

Tip: A minimum of one hour outside a day helps keep insomnia at bay.
4. Doing homework in bed
Teenagers might find it hard to 'switch off' and go to sleep if they associate their bed with studying. (Image: Getty Images)

The brain associates activity with location. When young people are at their desks in school it’s easy to get into study mode. They associate learning and productive activity with their classroom and its furnishings. The same principal applies at home. If they fire up their laptops and work while on their beds, it will be hard for them to mentally switch off from their schoolwork when the light finally goes out.

Tip: Keep homework out of bedrooms. If they must work in their rooms, confine study to a desk.
5. Talking on their mobile phones
Using mobile phones less than 90 minutes before bed may be throwing teens off sleep. (Image: Getty Images)

A mobile is an extension of the body for most teens. There’s no getting away from the fact that mobile phones may be harming our health. One study found that radiation thrown off by mobile phones can seriously throw off sleep. The study found that mobile phone users reported more headaches, took longer to fall asleep and had difficulty experiencing a deep sleep.

Tip: Encourage young people to limit the length of their calls and place a moratorium on mobile use 90 minutes before bedtime.
6. Consuming caffeine and other stimulants
"Drinking caffeine in any form after dinner is like throwing a wrecking ball through sleep patterns." (Image: Getty Images)

It’s a familiar story. It’s seven o’clock in the evening and your teenager hasn’t started a big assignment that’s due in the next day. Needing to stay awake for the big job ahead he drinks a coffee or a caffeinated soft drink or two to maintain his adrenaline high. Consuming caffeine in any form after dinner is like throwing a wrecking ball through regular sleep patterns. The brain needs to calm down rather than be artificially stimulated if sleep is to occur.

Tip: Confine caffeinated drinks to mornings to minimise its impact on sleep.

According to beyondblue, one in seven teenagers experiences a mental health disorder. Many experts agree that if they were to choose only one strategy to improve young people’s wellbeing it would be to increase the quality and quantity of sleep that teenagers receive. That’s how important sleep is to a young person’s well-being.