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Health in your teens: sleep

Teenager who has fallen asleep.
When it comes to your teen years, your body may need more sleep than an adult would.

‘Health in your teens’ is a series of blog posts all about how you can take care of yourself as a teenager. From getting enough sleep to learning how to manage stress, we’re covering the big health topics you and your mates might deal with during your teenage years.

5 tips for awesome sleep as a teen

Sleep is super essential to being a productive, functioning human. Whether you’re aiming to get top marks in your next exam, want to have a great time with your friends on the weekend, or just don’t want to wake up ‘on the wrong side of the bed’ every morning, sleeping well at night is linked to how well and happy you feel.

How much sleep do teenagers need?

We’ve all heard the stereotype that teenagers sleep extra long and late. It’s true that teenagers do need a lot of sleep, but this doesn’t mean they’re lazy. In fact, getting a lot of good quality Zs is one of the best things you can do for your health in your teens, and at any age.

When it comes to your teen years, your body may need more sleep than an adult would. For most teens, about 8-10 hours a night is necessary to feel fully rested the next day.

Sleep allows your body to rest and your brain to process the day’s information. At the same time, your glands release chemicals like your growth hormone, which get to work growing and repairing your body (you can read more about the cool things that happen to your body during sleep here).

Without enough sleep, you might feel sluggish or cranky, have low energy, and find it hard to concentrate and learn. Your immune system needs sleep to function as well as possible and keep your body healthy, so without enough sleep you might find yourself feeling run down or unwell.

Sleep is essential for good health and happiness, but it can be tricky for teenagers to get enough sleep, or even get to sleep in the first place, with stats showing that most Aussie teens get only about 6.5 – 7.5 hours a night.

So, how do you get a great night’s sleep? Follow these 5 tips for sleeping well.

Teenager who has fallen asleep on couch

5 tips for great sleep

1. Get out and active during the day

Your sleep cycles are controlled by hormones that your brain releases to make you feel either sleepy at night time or awake during the day.

Being physically active throughout the day, especially in natural (outside) light, allows your body to produce melatonin, the hormone that will make you sleepy at night time. Try to get 60 minutes of activity every day – if you’re looking for ideas on how to get active, you can read more about physical activity in your teens here.

2. The important when and where of sleep

Routine is one of the most important parts of sleeping well. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every night will help your body learn when to get sleepy and will help you track if you’re getting enough sleep.

Try to go to sleep in the same place every night – don’t drop off on the couch or sitting in front of your computer. Set up your bedroom for optimal sleeping conditions: make it dark and quiet, and keep distractions (like your phone) either out of the room or somewhere where they won’t wake you up. For bonus points, allow natural light to come into the room in the morning to wake you up.

3. Try mindfulness to help your brain chill out

Wish you could get to sleep but your brain just won’t be quiet? Feeling like your thoughts are racing, you’re full of great ideas, or you’re worrying about the day just gone or the one coming up?

Feeling alert or anxious when you’re trying to go to sleep is a common complaint, but not one you have to put up with. Learning some mindfulness or relaxation techniques might help you to quiet your mind so you can go to sleep with ease.

Health Direct have information on how mindfulness meditation and relaxation work, while apps like Smiling Mind can guide you through mindfulness exercises.

A racing mind or difficulty falling asleep might be signs that you need to pay some attention to your mental health. Read up on how to look after your mental health in your teens here.

4. Cut caffeine after 3pm

Caffeine is a chemical that is found in some foods and drinks. It’s a stimulant, which means it acts on your brain and nervous system to give you a short burst of energy.

It makes sense that caffeine isn’t really useful when you’re trying to go to sleep. There’s no proven safe level of caffeine to eat or drink in your teens, and everyone reacts to caffeine differently. In general, try to limit your intake of caffeine after about 3pm.

Common foods and drinks that contain caffeine are:

  • chocolate and chocolate drinks
  • coffee
  • tea, including black and green
  • cola drinks
  • energy drinks
  • some soft drinks
  • some protein and energy bars

You can read more about caffeine and how it affects your body on the Better Health website.

5. Separate screen time and sleep time

Remember melatonin, the hormone that helps you get sleepy at night? The screens on our digital devices – phones, computers, tablets and TVs – emit blue light, and when your body takes in that blue light, it can suppress the release of melatonin. This means that using screens before you go to bed can stop you from feeling tired and going to sleep easily, and affect the quality of your sleep once you drop off.

Using these devices before bed also keeps your mind active, instead of taking time to unwind, and they might wake you up once you’ve fallen asleep with alerts or other noises, especially if you’re using them in bed.

Try to not stop using screened devices for about an hour before you go to bed, to give you time to relax and unwind. Instead, you might do one of the relaxation exercises from above, read a book, write in a journal, or have a relaxing bath or shower (nothing too hot though, or it might wake you up again!).

More information

Want more information about the science of sleep? The Sleep Health Foundation have fact sheets about sleep, common conditions and tips for good sleep hygiene.

More ‘Health in your Teens’

5 things you can do to look after your mental health in your teens

5 ways to make sure you’re getting enough physical activity in your teens

Last updated: 1 August 2018