Rule out medical conditions that can impair sleep: Sleep apnea, narcolepsy, depression and anxiety are just a few of the medical conditions that can impair sleep and have very negative effects on the the life experience. Narcolepsy often presents in adolescence and can be misdiagnosed as depression or even laziness. At St. Louis Children’s Hospital, we provide comprehensive sleep evaluation and treatment through our sleep center. To learn more about our sleep center or make an appointment, click here or call 314-454-KIDS. Our brochure, “A Parent’s Guide to Sleep Disorders,” can provide more information about sleep disorders including sleep apnea and narcolepsy.
Help your child write out and live by an evening and bedtime schedule: The trick to getting to bed on time is an evening and bedtime schedule. If you child still has chores or homework to do, chances are you will let her stay up to finish. Most teens only have about 4 hours each day at home before bedtime. This time is valuable. Have a schedule for homework, paid work, extra-curriculars, practicing, bathing, and unstructured free time. Encourage your child to stick to a regular bedtime routine, just as when they were younger.
Set a bedtime for your screens, too: Screen time before bed prolongs “sleep latency,” or the time it takes to fall asleep. So your screens need a bedtime, too, at least ninety minutes before your child’s bedtime (I prefer two hours). Set an alarm on your phone or tablet for your screen’s “bedtime.” Choose a unique alarm sound, like a barking dog, so that when the dog barks the kids know it’s time for the screen to go to bed. Then pick a common spot to charge up your screens overnight—we use a basket on the kitchen counter. This makes it easier for you, as a parent, to check that all screens are off and out of kids’ bedrooms at least 90 minutes before bedtime.
Exercise: What is your child’s primary form of exercise during the school year? Exercise helps kids sleep well, and sleep improves athletic performance. Avoid exercise in the 2 hour window before bed.
Get rid of chemical stimulants: Caffeine, energy drinks, chocolate, and nicotine interfere with sleep. When you’re trying to get your teen on a sleep schedule, it’s best to get rid of all of it. Some “health” and energy drinks contain elusive amounts of caffeine, so be careful as to what your children are drinking and read labels.
Refill your medications: ADHD medications, antidepressants, and other common pediatric drugs can alter sleep. Be sure your child is taking their prescription at the right time of day and isn’t missing doses.
Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a mother of five young children. Connect with Dr. Berchelmann at: KathleenBerchelmannMD.com.