Now that school is back in session, teenagers face new stress of balancing homework, extracurricular activities, family situations, and social events. It’s a lot for a developing brain to manage, and many teens need extra mental health support.
The pressures of ongoing responsibilities and a jam-packed schedule can make it hard for people of all ages to cope with stress. Often, the most effective mental health solutions start with self-care and small, daily habits. In order to have the resilience and wellness needed to get through the day, teenagers must begin with a good night’s sleep.
Teenagers and Sleeping Habits
The problem is that many teens are developing poor sleep habits. They stay up too late, often spending hours on social media, playing video games, or texting with their friends. These activities stimulate the eyes and brain, making it hard to fall asleep at a reasonable hour.
Exhaustion sets in the next day, making it hard to get through daily responsibilities due to lack of sleep. So, a teenager often feels the need to take a nap after school, which disrupts the sleep cycle even more. This vicious pattern takes an undeniable toll on mental health and overall wellness.
Why Teenagers Need Quality Sleep for Mental Health
Many people assume that the effects of poor sleep are inconsequential. But the seemingly small results of low-quality sleep have an impact on mental health over time.
Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. But researchers are finding that lack of sleep could be a major factor contributing to mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. For example, a study at the University of Texas Health Science Centre discovered that the risk of depression increases 4x in teens who are sleep deprived.
In addition to mental health concerns from a lack of sleep, the risk of physical issues also goes up. For example, patients with chronic sleep deprivation have a higher risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Top Signs of Teenage Sleep Deprivation
The challenge that parents face is knowing whether their teenagers are getting enough sleep. Even if the teen is in bed at a decent hour each night, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the teen chooses to go to sleep right away.
If your teen isn’t getting enough sleep, then you should be able to identify the most common symptoms:
- Facial Expression: Watch for tired facial expressions, droopy eyelids, or dark bags under their eyes.
- Difficulty Waking Up: When a teenager is overly tired, irritable, and has a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, it is likely because they didn’t go to sleep early enough the night before.
- Sicknesses: Lack of sleep takes a toll on the immune system, leaving a person more susceptible to frequent illnesses. If the teen is getting sick often, then it could be time to reassess their sleeping habits.
- Weight Gain: Sleep deprivation can cause the body to produce “ghrelin” – also known as the hunger hormone. The body is trying to adapt by increasing hunger signals. This boost in appetite might result in unhealthy weight gain.
- Memory Issues: Teenagers have sharp minds and should be able to recall information easily. If your teen is often forgetful, then it could be relating to sleep deprivation.
- Attention Issues: When a teen has difficulty following simple conversations or often stares off into the distance, the cause of these attention issues might be a lack of sleep.
- Napping Patterns: Pay attention to the times when the teenager is often napping. It’s not healthy to come home from school and go straight to bed for a nap. This cycle needs to be broken so they can reestablish healthier sleeping patterns.
Parents: Tips for Helping Your Teenager’s Sleep Habits
As the parent of a teenager, you know that it can be a challenge to help them change their habits. But you can be a proactive partner in encouraging your teen to make the necessary changes to improve their sleep. Here are a few tips to help:
- Talk About the Effects: Teenagers are more willing to change when they understand the reason WHY their habits matter. Explain the connection between sleep and mental health, so your teenager knows why it matters.
- Cut Out the Napping: Plan activities to keep the teenager busy in the afternoon or evening, so they don’t nap during this time. Cutting the napping is essential to ensure they are tired and ready to sleep when it is time to go to bed.
- Design a Family Sleep Schedule: Lead by example by creating a sleep schedule for the whole family. Establish routines to help everyone wind down at night by dimming the lights and turning off electronics. Consider setting the actual bedtime an hour before you want your children to fall asleep.
- Exercise Regularly: If the teenager has a hard time falling asleep, it could be due to a lack of physical activity during the day. So encourage them to participate in 30 minutes of daily exercise. Not only does the movement help to wear them out, but it also increases the production of an important sleep hormone: melatonin.
- Consider Eating Habits: Some people have a hard time sleeping if there is a heavy digestive load before bed. Eat dinner earlier in the evening, and reduce meal size.
Chicken or the Egg: Mental Health and Sleep Disorders
Now that we understand the connection between sleep and mental health, it begs the question: are the disorders causing sleep problems, or is a lack of sleep leading to more mental health issues? Unfortunately, it appears to be a complicated answer since you can answer yes to both of these questions.
The key to better sleep and improved mental health is to address both of these issues simultaneously. If your child needs mental health support, then you should also be proactively addressing their sleep patterns.