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  • Writer's pictureDr. Mojgan Makki

Is COVID-19 Affecting Your Teen's Sleep?

Why it Matters and How You Can Help

Current life upheaval is wreaking havoc on the quality of slumber across the globe. Adolescents tend to suffer from sleep disturbances, like insomnia, more than others under normal circumstances. With current uncertainty and lack of routine, they may be struggling more than ever. Here are the reasons why regular, quality sleep is so important for teens and some tips for helping your teens get their sleep habits back on track.

Why sleep is important to adolescents:

  • Sleep plays a central role in the maintenance of health, both physical and mental. This is true at all ages, but it is particularly critical in the pediatric population. Insomnia is common in adolescence, particularly in late adolescence and in girls.

  • Adolescents need approximately 9 hours of sleep per night for optimal neurobehavioral functioning.

  • Studies find that multiple, successive nights of restricted sleep can impair multiple cognitive and affective functions, such as mood and anxiety.

  • A large and growing body of research indicates that inadequate sleep duration is linked to obesity.

  • Insomnia and hypersomnia are associated with mental health disorders, including depression and substance abuse.

  • Insomnia is a risk factor for suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts.

  • Complex cognitive abilities, particularly those involving executive function and risk taking behaviors, seem to be compromised in adolescents with insomnia.

Tips for helping your teens get better sleep:

  • Help your adolescents maintain a routine, even if things happen at different times than before. It is okay to let your teens go to bed and wake up later than usual.

  • Once awake, encourage your teens to shower, get dressed, have breakfast, or whatever they normally do to start the “school day."

  • Make sure your teens gets some sunlight, by taking a walk or sitting by a window.

  • Encourage your adolescents to limit daytime naps to less than 45 minutes.

  • Help your teens keep a regular schedule for meals.

  • Have your teens avoid stimulants such as caffeine, energy drinks, and nicotine.

  • Because “screen time” exposure has been proven to negatively affect the body’s natural signal to fall asleep, all screens should be turned off one to two hours before bedtime.

  • Encourage calming activities in the 30 minutes before bed, like taking a bath, reading a book, or listening to music.

  • Limit your adolescents’ exposure to news about COVID-19.

  • Engage your family in brief but regular reflection on the current situation in a calm, safe space.

  • Allow "down time." It's normal for teens to crave privacy from their family. Give them space for quiet time, creative time, music time, or to virtually hang out with friends.

If your adolescents are feeling sad, depressed, hopeless, nervous, or angry during the COVID-19 pandemic, they may need more support. Don’t wait until shelter in place is lifted to get them help. Most mental health practitioners and programs are available for assessments and appointments via teleconference.

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