Sleep Guide for Teens

sleep-guide

Sleep is an incredibly important component to good health and wellbeing.  It is while we sleep that important body functions and brain activities occur, such as detoxification, tissue repair, and regeneration.  While the amount of sleep needed will vary by individual, on average, adolescents require at least 9 hours of uninterrupted, deep sleep each night.  The teen years are an important stage of growth and development; providing sufficient time during sleep each night for these processes to occur is critical.  Without adequate sleep, the immune system is compromised, hormones can become imbalanced, and the risk of developing degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes increases.  Weight gain is also strongly correlated with insufficient sleep. Furthermore, the ability to learn, focus, concentrate, and problem solve is compromised by lack of quality sleep.

 

While there are many factors that prevent adolescents from achieving a restful night’s sleep, depression and insomnia tend to rank high.  Insomnia is both the inability to fall asleep or fall back to sleep if woken during the night. Insomnia can be caused by many things, most commonly by hormonal imbalances, liver congestion and even conditions such as asthma, hypoglycemia and digestive disturbances.  Anxiety, stress, and grief are other major psychological issues that contribute to compromised sleeping patterns. Aside from physiological and psychological factors, there are social pressures and financial responsibilities as well. Many teens feel social pressure to stay up late with friends.  Some also have part-time jobs that require them to work after school and often late into the evening. Many teens also begin experimenting with caffeine, alcohol, and other substances - all of which impact sleep. Poor nutritional habits and lack of physical activity can also contribute to the lack of, or inability to, sleep.        

 

Taking all of the above into consideration, it is important to understand the root causes of lack of sleep in order to address the issue and support your teen naturally and holistically .


Nourishment

 

Cut back on high glycemic, sugary foods- High glycemic foods, sugary snacks, and sweet desserts cause blood sugar to spike and then crash, which will affect sleep quality. Higher glycemic foods tend to be most popular during teenage years, so this step may be difficult depending on the person.

 

Some higher glycemic foods include: white bread, white pasta, white rice, cereal, sugary desserts, potatoes, fries, rice cakes, beer, chocolate, soda and high GI fruits such as dried fruit. Replace these with lower GI substitutes, such as fresh berries, brown rice, brown rice pasta, ezekiel bread, quinoa.

 

Avoid fatty, heavy and spicy foods before bed. - Fatty foods, spicy foods, and heavy foods take a lot of work and time for your stomach to digest and may prevent you from falling to sleep. They can also cause heartburn and digestive upset, which worsens as you are lying down; greatly disturbing quality sleep. Instead, eat light foods,  and consider foods that are not processed or packaged.

 

Avoid caffeine after 2pm! Eliminate or cut back on caffeinated beverages, such as soda, tea, and coffee.  Ideally, caffeine-containing beverages should not be consumed beyond noon, as caffeine could be affecting your sleep if consumed beyond this time. Excess caffeine increases anxiety interferes with sleep, and can even provoke panic attacks. In some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently and they can feel the energy-boosting effects long after consuming it. So an afternoon cup of coffee or can of pop will keep some people from falling asleep.

 

Incorporate: sesame, lentils, chickpeas, buckwheat, spirulina, turkey, and sunflower seeds into your diet - especially in the evening. These foods are rich in tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps promote relaxation and sleep.  It is an essential amino acid, which means it cannot be made in the body. This means we only reap the benefits if we consume tryptophan rich foods. When you pair tryptophan-containing foods with high glycemic carbohydrates, it helps calm the brain and allow you to sleep better.


Lifestyle Support

 

Establishing a bedtime routine is the easiest and most successful method of getting your body and mind prepared for sleep.  A bedtime routine can be as simple as meditation, deep breathing, using aromatherapy or essential oils, reading a book, or listening to calming music. The key is to find something that makes you feel relaxed, then repeat it each night to help you release the day's tensions. As a teen, there are many aspects of life that may be contributing to stress, including school, a part-time job, relationships, and peer pressure.  Finding activities to relieve stress from the mind and body, such as taking a warm shower or bath, writing in a journal, or doing calming yoga can not only be of benefit for stress reduction but also to restful sleep.

 

It is also helpful to go to sleep at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning. This helps to reset the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which will lead to deeper and more restful sleep.  As your body becomes accustomed to sleeping during set times each night, it will also become much easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake in the morning feeling rested.


 

As much as possible, unplug from electronics at least one hour before bed.  This includes tv, hand-held devices, and computer screens. Most notably, the blue light emitted from these devices directly stimulates the excitatory centers in the brain, which makes it difficult for the mind to settle into a state of readiness for sleep.  Ideally, electronic devices should be kept out of the bedroom; however, if this is not possible, aim to keep them at least 3 feet away from your bed. The electronic frequencies that radiate from these devices also interrupt neural pathways, which is disruptive to sleep.  Finally, if you use a cell phone as an alarm clock, make sure to keep it in airplane mode to disable the EMFs.

 

Physical activity is an important component of healthy sleep.  It helps to relieve stress and tension, lifts depression and low mood, and balances hormones.  Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day is an important practice not only for good sleep but for optimal health. Exercise in the morning helps reset your circadian rhythm and allows you to feel more alert and awake throughout the day. If morning exercise is not possible, getting your physical activity in when it works with your schedule - and doing activities that you enjoy - is critical. However, try not to exercise too close to bedtime (generally not within the 3 hours before bed), otherwise, it will prevent you from falling asleep. Light aerobic activity such as brisk walking, step or floor aerobics, jogging, or swimming are all excellent choices. Resistance training with or without weights, yoga or pilates are other great examples.  Participating in sports - provided you are actively moving and working up a sweat for 30 minutes - such as soccer or basketball are other great options. Find activities that you enjoy and that you can stick with.

Keeping your sleep environment conducive to sleep is another imperative measure to ensure restful and deep sleep.  Ensuring your room is as dark as possible is important to allow your body to produce melatonin - a critical hormone for good sleep.  Use blackout blinds on windows, remove any electronics that emanate light (or, cover with black electrical tape), keep hallway lights off and close your bedroom door.  Ideally, your room should be dark enough that you cannot see your hand a few inches from your face. Also, consider using a white noise machine - a floor fan works as well - to filter out ambient sounds.   


Helpful Herbs

 

Lemon- Balm - a mild nervine relaxant that helps with acute cases of stress or tension.  Is also ideal for mild insomnia or for relaxing in the evening. Try sipping a cup of lemon balm tea in the evening before bed.   

  

Passionflower has analgesic and tranquilizing properties that allow the body to relax and fall into a deep sleep. Passionflower is also an amazing herb to consider for overthinking, especially at night, as the medicinal properties of this herb allow the mind to be calm and tranquil when thoughts are bombarding your head. Best consumed in tincture form before bed for occasional sleeplessness. Passionflower can also be made into a tea.  The sedative effects are best felt when taken on an empty stomach.

 

Chamomile - another gentle relaxant that helps with calming the nervous system.  Try a cup of tea in the evening before bed as part of your routine to relieve stress and calm the body in preparation for sleep.

 

Valerian - a more powerful sedative that is used for acute anxiety.  It has powerful relaxant and sedative actions which help induce sleep.  Valerian can be found in tea combinations or can be taken on its own as a tea or in tincture form.

 

Skull Cap - a nervine tonic for longer-term strengthening of the nervous system with relaxation properties.  It is very useful in nerve irritability, hyper-brain activity (“tired-but-wired”) and has sedative qualities as well.  It can be taken as a tea (either alone or in a combination) or in tincture form.


Supportive Supplements

 

B vitamins will help promote a restful state and are amazing for relieving stress from the body. Some B vitamins are needed for the syntheses and release of certain neurotransmitters and hormones that are involved in the regulation of sleep and the circadian cycle, so covering your bases and supplementing with a complex will be beneficial. Specifically, thiamine, niacin and pantothenic acid are the three B vitamins that have the most involvement with relaxation, stress removal, and REM sleep enhancement.

B Vitamins are generally best taken in the morning and no later than lunchtime to support nighttime sleep. Taking B vitamins in the afternoon and evening can have the unwanted and opposite effect of boosting energy, thereby interrupting sleep.

 

GABA (gamma butyric acid) is a naturally occurring chemical compound produced in the brain that helps to calm the excitability of neurons. People who have chronic sleep problems typically have GABA levels that are 30% below normal, as do people with mood disorders, like depression, which are tied to insomnia as well. Try in chewable form 200mg twice daily.

 

L-theanine increases alpha wave activity in the brain, mimicking brain waves during deep sleep phases. Because of this, L-theanine increases the production of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, which all promote sleep and elevate mood. Try a chewable supplement 100-200mg daily.

 

 

Melatonin is a natural hormone that promotes sound sleep by adjusting the body’s internal clock. Though it won’t force your body to sleep, melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening and put you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep. If melatonin production is compromised, it is difficult to develop a proper sleeping schedule.

Start with .5mg 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed. Melatonin is helpful for some, but not all. 

 

Magnesium - is an important mineral for countless function in the body, from smooth muscle regulation, detoxification, body health, and even relaxation.  Taking 200-400mg of magnesium can help calm the body for sleep.


Always consult a holistic practitioner prior to taking or combining herbs & supplements

Whatever the cause of sleep disturbance is, it is important to make sleep a priority.  Identifying what is preventing your teen from falling/staying asleep and providing support through the recommendations listed throughout this guide, can lead to a more restful night’s rest - along with a happier, healthier teen!

kristin dahl