Did you know that adolescents (defined by the World Health Organisation as people aged between 10 and 19) need 9 hours of sleep per night? Research has shown that in developed countries, adolescents are getting around 7-8 hours of sleep per night which means they are in 'sleep debt'.

Remember how, before the Internet and the overwhelming presence of digital screens, parents used to complain about their teenagers sleeping too much? The opposite is usually the case these days and if teens are sleeping later or more than seems appropriate, it's because they are staying up into the wee hours on their devices.

Symptoms and effects of adolescent sleep deprivation:

  • Depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
  • Abnormal mood fluctuations.
  • Decreased ability to concentrate.
  • More frequent illness as the body doesn’t have enough down time for the immune system to function optimally.
  • Obesity due to hormonal dysfunction caused by lack of sleep.
  • Clumsiness resulting in accidents.
  • Lack of motivation.

Even apart from the dastardly screen time issue, adolescents are under a great deal of strain. Long hours of study, long commutes between home and school, undesirable expectations (some kids dislike participating in cross country, school musicals or fundraisers), peer pressure and too many extra-curricular activities can all contribute to their stress.

Winding down at the end of the day is an art that seems to be lost on many of us, including teenagers. Closing the books after a heavy study session and climbing straight into bed can result in difficulty falling asleep. Falling asleep in bed (or on the couch) watching TV or scrolling through Instagram on a smartphone can keep the brain 'wired' for activity and so quality sleep can be hard to achieve.

Nightly wind-down rituals

At every age, we all need that important wind-down ritual each evening. In order to help your teenage son or daughter to get enough sleep and avoid sleep deprivation, encourage them to implement wind-down activities daily.

  • Take a short, regular-pace walk outdoors together. Even around the block once or twice is enough. Look at the moon and stars, have a quiet chat and do a little deep breathing.
  • Sit on the balcony or veranda and listen to the night noises such as crickets, birds, rustling trees and even the evening traffic.
  • Write a journal entry in a physical book, with a pen.
  • Have a diffuser or oil burner running with The Australian Sleep Co oils filling the air with sleep-inducing aromas.
  • Try a 10-minute meditation. If not meditation, then even a visualisation of something desirable like a holiday, walking on the beach or winning an award.
  • Buy a colouring book and do one picture each night.
  • Do some gentle stretches on the floor, with some calming music playing.
  • Have a warm bubble bath or epsom salt bath.
  • Go outside and blow bubbles. Just use dishwashing liquid.

Pay attention to how much sleep your adolescent son or daughter is getting. If you can't be sure, pay attention to their behaviours and moods. Open a conversation about the importance of sleep. Aim to make changes for even one week and you will no doubt notice a difference. And while you're at it, do the same for yourself and see how much better you feel too.