I feel much better... my energy’s off the chart now and I just feel so much happier as well, like there’s always a smile on my face
Teenage sleep patterns are different from both children and adults.
We know that because of changes related to puberty, teenagers naturally want to go to bed later and get up later – something that doesn’t always match with other people’s schedules, including school or work. In addition, it’s a time when life presents a number of challenges to good sleep habits – including technology, more independence, an increasingly active social life, anxiety, and the stress of school and exams.
In this section you’ll find advice specifically designed for teenagers about how to sleep well, set out in a series of steps. You’ll also find links to some of the checklists and resources we use as part of our education programme in schools, Sound Sleep. Further information can be found in our sleep booklet for adolescents.
10 Steps to better sleep:
Step 1: Find out if you’re sleep-deprived
Teenagers typically need around 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night. But how you’re feeling during the day can also tell you whether you need to change your sleep habits.
Lack of sleep affects energy, concentration, mood, and even how hungry you feel. It also makes it harder to remember things you’ve learned at school, and increases reaction times if you’re playing sport or on-line games. A bit like a car running low on fuel, if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s hard to keep going.
Look at our Checklist for sleepy teenagers to check whether you might be sleep-deprived.
Step 2: Work out when you need to go to bed
Think about when you need to get up in the morning and count back the number of hours of sleep you need. So, for example, if you need to get up at 8 am, you should be aiming to fall asleep by 10:45-11:00 pm.
Some teenagers find it helpful to put together a sleep plan for themselves.
Step 3: Pay attention to what you do in the daytime
We fall asleep at night because of our body’s circadian rhythm and a build-up in sleep pressure. If these get knocked out of their natural rhythm, it’s harder to drift off at a good time.
Try to get outside into natural light for at least 30 minutes, have your meals at roughly the same times and get some exercise every day. It’s also best not to nap during the day, as napping can lead to you feeling less tired at bed-time.
Remember that sleeping in at weekends or on holidays will disrupt your body clock – much the same as the ‘jet lag effect’ you experience when you’ve changed time zones. This means that you’ll have difficulty falling asleep, will have reduced sleeping time, and will likely struggle to get up in the morning.
Step 4: Think about what you eat and drink
Some foods and drinks contain ingredients that can have a significant effect on sleep. Caffeine can stay in some young people’s systems for up to 10 hours, so avoid drinks containing caffeine in the second half of the day and don’t drink too much of them – this includes energy drinks, cola, tea or coffee. Anything too sugary will also delay sleep.
The good news is that there are some foods and drinks which help with sleep! Read more about these in our Gateway to good sleep.
Remember that alcohol, nicotine and many legal and illegal drugs are also stimulants, so will not help with sleep.
Step 5: Have a wind-down hour
The last hour before bed is a vital time to prepare your body for sleep. It’s also your time to set aside the stresses of the day and relax. Switch off your TV, computer or phone. Have a bath, wind down and chill out. Read, listen to relaxing music, or try a relaxation technique to help you drift off.
Stick as closely as you can to the same bedtime and getting up times, even at weekends.
Step 6: Put away your tech
Too much light will delay you feeling sleepy – and the light from TVs, phones, tablets, and computers is especially disruptive to your sleep pattern. What’s more, YouTube videos, or chats on social media are likely to stimulate your brain at a time when you really need to be winding down.
Put tech away at the start of the wind-down hour and try not to check it overnight if you wake up.
Step 7: Manage anxiety
Stress and anxiety raise the levels of the hormone cortisol in our system – as this is the hormone that wakes us up in the morning and keeps us going all day, this is bad news when we’re trying to get to sleep. We also know that if we’re tired, we’re more likely to get anxious, which results in more cortisol being produced, and disturbed sleep, creating a vicious circle of stress.
Having a wind-down hour will help you set aside the worries of the day, but you can also try relaxation techniques like these in our Sound Sleep resources. Yoga, breathing exercises and guided visualisations on apps like SmilingMind are also often helpful.
Don’t forget that if you feel stressed or depressed, it’s important to talk to someone. This could be a parent, friend, teacher or you can contact one of these organisations which offer support.
Step 8: Think about your bedroom
The environment you sleep in can have a massive effect on how easily you fall asleep.
Keep your bedroom dark and cool and used subdued lighting in the last hour before bed. Make sure your bed is comfortable and try not to have tech or nocturnal pets in the room with you!
Keeping your room uncluttered will also help.
Step 9: Keep a sleep diary
Keeping a sleep diary for a few weeks allows you to get an overview of how you’re sleeping and whether your daytime activities, diet, and feelings are affecting how you sleep at night. You can download a sleep diary here.
Step 10: Talk to us!
If you think your sleep problems are physical, it’s important to speak to your GP – this could be heavy snoring, having difficulty breathing, night terrors or sleep paralysis, sleep-walking or very frequent waking-up during the night.
Look at our Student resources for more advice on sleeping well.
How does our body know when to fall asleep? Should we avoid looking at our smartphones before going to bed? And what about eating late in the evening?
Sleep Scotland is part of the SCRAMS project, who created a comic book, ‘Enlighten your clock: How your body tells time’, to coincide with the UNESCO International Day of Light on Sunday 16th May. It is suitable for all readers from the age of 13 years. For more details on the SCRAMS project, see the SCRAMS website.