Getting more sleep is actually difficult for teens. Melatonin, the chemical the body produces to prepare for sleep, releases much later in adolescents. Unfortunately, this is part of their maturing process. However, parents can take steps to help teens sleep.
Teenagers love to eat. Foods high in tryptophan, a chemical that helps produce serotonin (without too much science, serotonin helps make melatonin) helps teens relax and get ready for sleep. Good food choices include:
- Baked potatoes with their skin
- Cheddar Cheese, Swiss Cheese
- Cottage Cheese
- Meat (including red meats)
- Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
- Soy Milk
- Soybean Nuts
- Sunflower Seeds
Have teenagers turn off the computer, television and videos games about an hour before bedtime. Exposure to bright, changing light reduces the body’s ability to sleep. Instead, play board games or cards before bed. Have teens read, listen to music or talk on the phone.
Exposure to bright sunlight in the morning resets the body, and helps melatonin rise in the evenings. Brighten up the kitchen or breakfast area, and awaken teens by opening bedroom curtains. Let them use the computer in the mornings. The bright light from the monitor has the same effect.
Encourage teens to get morning or afternoon outdoor exercise. Have them walk the dog, or walk to school when possible.
Insist on a regular bedtime. Teenagers may give parents grief, but talking to the kids about the health benefits may help. Make sure that teens know that their homework needs to be done by a certain time, say 9:30 pm, and after that, it’s time to wind down for sleep. Suggest that the teen choose a bedtime routine, like a hot shower or bath, picking out clothes for the next day, or reading a good book. Bedtime routines in themselves help the body prepare for sleep.
To benefit the whole family, try these tips. After dinner, turn the lights down throughout the house and avoid overhead lighting whenever possible. It is too bright and stimulating. Keep a low light on in the kitchen and bathroom. Lavender, Sandalwood and Jasmine are fragrances that help with relaxation and sleep. Use scented candles, or a few drops of scented oil on the light bulbs. Serve bite size turkey and cheese, nuts, or any of the listed foods as TV snacks.
Sometimes there are reasons why kids can’t sleep. St Louis Children’s Hospital has a sleep diagnostic center, specializing in pediatric sleep disorders. If your teen cannot sleep, or sleeps too much, contact your health profession.