When teens are told that they need 8-10 hours of sleep each night, they often laugh. Early school start times, mounds of homework, and after-school activities and sports can make getting enough sleep really hard. But not getting enough sleep affects your stress levels, weight, mood, and ability to do well in school. Getting enough sleep can be hard, but it’s not impossible. Here are 7 tips to improve your quality of sleep, so you can be your healthiest, most energetic self!
1. Go to bed at the same time every night.
Going to bed at the same time every night helps your body establish a natural rhythm. This makes it easier to fall asleep at night, and improves your overall quality of sleep—meaning you’re more alert and energetic throughout the day!
2. Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bed.
Your phone, computer, TV and other electronics emit a blue light that works to keep you awake. If you use them before going to bed, you may find it hard to actually fall asleep. Change your bedtime routine so that you put away electronics at least 30 minutes before bed (an hour is even better!). Try reading a book, doing some stretching, writing in a journal, meditating, or doing something else relaxing instead. If you find it absolutely impossible to put away the electronics, download software to your computer which turns your computer light warmer. Your phone may also have a feature that lets you turn on warmer light.
3. Get moving!
Exercising uses up energy stored in your body, which means you won’t have all that excess energy and stress stored up at the end of the day. If you don’t do much physical activity during the day, it’s more likely that you’ll feel restless when you’re trying to fall asleep. Exercise also improves your overall quality of sleep, and can help you feel more alert during the day. Some people have a hard time falling asleep if they exercise too close to bedtime—if that sounds like you, work out earlier in the day to get a good night’s rest.
4. Say no to caffeine late in the day.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can give you energy and help keep you awake. This is great early in the morning, but if you consume caffeine (whether it’s in soda, coffee, or tea) too late in the day, it can keep you awake. Cut off your caffeine intake at least 6 hours before bedtime. If you usually go to bed at 10 pm, this means no caffeine after 5 pm. Stick with water, herbal caffeine-free tea, or low-fat milk. Keep in mind that people react to caffeine differently—it’s possible that drinking caffeine as early as 2 pm can affect your sleep cycle. Pay attention to how caffeine makes you feel, and adjust how much you drink (and when) accordingly.
5. Don’t do your homework in bed.
If you often do homework in bed, your mind might begin to associate your bed with work and stress. This can make it harder to fall asleep. Do homework at a desk, a dining room table, or somewhere else instead. If you’ve been trying to fall asleep for a while but are wide awake, get up and do something else. There’s no reason to lie in bed restlessly and stress yourself out. Bed time should be relaxing, not stressful.
6. Establish a bedtime routine.
If you’re rushing to finish last-minute assignments at 9:55 and lie down to try to go to sleep at 10, you’ll probably have a hard time falling asleep. This is because your body is in go mode, and you probably have a lot of adrenaline in your body. Establish a relaxing nighttime routine to calm your body down. This could include stretching, meditating, reading a book (not the news, which is more likely to stress you out!), listening to calming music, journaling, doing a crossword puzzle, or anything else that helps you relax.
7. Don’t smoke or drink.
The nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant, and can keep you awake. If you smoke, don’t do it before bed. Even though alcohol is a depressant and can make some people sleepy, it still disrupts your sleep cycle and makes it more likely that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night.
If you consistently can’t fall asleep, or often stay awake for a large part of the night, talk to a medical provider. Lack of sleep can have a major effect on your mental AND physical health. A professional can help you get the sleep you need. If you live near NYC and are 10-22 years old, you can come into the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for a completely free, confidential, judgment-free appointment with a healthcare provider.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.