As one of the official greeters of my school, I say “Good morning!” to a lot of teenagers on a daily basis. The most common response is “I’m tired”. We all know that teenagers need more sleep than adults for their development, so being tired is a bit normal, but my concern is that our teens are going through their days exhausted. There are many possible factors to this exhaustion including unreasonable hours of homework, overscheduled days to build a resume for college, or the rise in anxiety amongst teenagers. These are larger issues that our education system needs to reflect deeply on, but one factor that is more controllable to help our teens get more sleep, is screen time at night and the need for a bedtime routine.
With phones, ipads, and laptops, it is common for teens to have these devices sleep on their nightstands or in their beds with them. I think all of us are guilty of scrolling social media mindlessly before bed, but the problem with this is the light from the screen stimulates your brain and actually keeps you awake. It can take up to 30 minutes to destimulate and be in a state that can fall asleep. Pair this with the pressure that teens are facing to give and gather likes on social media, and it makes for sleepless nights.
A bedtime routine may seem like something for an infant or toddler, but I think it is something we can all benefit from and we can help our teens with. Here is a suggested timeline that I use with my students.
30 minutes before bed– Phones sleep alone. Plug in your devices in a designated area outside the bedroom. Make a little area in your kitchen or hallway that is a charging station. Teens can make it fun by decorating the phone “bed” or it can be plain. When I make the suggestion of a phone charging station to my students (and adult friends) the first response is, “My phone is my alarm clock.” Easy solution. Buy an alarm clock. Here is a cool one.
15 minutes before bed– Drink some warm tea to calm your body, brush your teeth, and read a few pages of a real book. You will feel your body start to relax and your brain start to calm from not staring at a screen.
Bedtime– Lights out! Turn on some calm music from your cool alarm clock or a guided meditation. Deep breathing exercises also help to calm your brain to begin your sleep cycle. An easy deep breathing exercise is to breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts, and then hold for four counts. If your mind starts to wander, think about the tip of your nose. It sounds boring, but it keeps you focused on having an empty mind and it works!
Training yourself to sleep with your tech outside of the bedroom does take practice, but it is worth the commitment. It took some getting used to, but now I prefer it and I actually can’t fall asleep if my phone is next to me.To help your teen with this, modeling is one of the best ways to encourage. Make a family pact to prioritize at least 8 hours of sleep per night and see the energy in your family rise.