Tips for teens struggling to sleep

If your teen or tween just can't fall asleep on time, Dr. Scott Leibowitz, Medical Director of Sleep Medicine for Northside Hospital in Atlanta, says don't blame your kid. Instead, blame their brain.

Leibowitz says around puberty the teenage body clock shifts into "night owl" mode.

"They want to stay up late, and they want to sleep late, not behaviorally, but biologically," Dr. Leibowitz says.

So, that early morning school alarm?

It can be a pretty rude wakeup call.

"Kids are going to bed at midnight or one, sleeping until 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m.," Leibowitz says.  "And, suddenly, they have to get up at 6:30 for school. So, they (A) can't fall asleep when they need to go to sleep, and (B) they're being forced to wake up and can't wake up in what would be the middle of their biological night."

Dr. Leibowitz says the average teen needs about 9 hours sleep a night, and many don't get anywhere close to that.

For sure, you need to get rid of electronics in the bedroom," Leibowitz says.  "Electronics don't cause sleep problems, but the make any potential sleep problem worse. And some teenagers are really susceptible to light at night.

Getting teens on a regular bedtime schedule can help."

"A sleep routine is good, recognizing that not every kid is going to be able to go to bed at 9 or 10 o'clock, because they're not sleepy," Leibowitz says.

He recommends parents try not to be too hard on kids who can't fall asleep.

"When your kid can't fall asleep, berating them because they can't fall asleep is going to create a negative association with sleep," Dr. Leibowitz explains.  "If you kid is trying their best to fall asleep and can't, it's probably because they're not sleepy, or they're anxious, or some other thing."

That doesn't mean they can get on their gadgets, he cautions.

"Can they pick up a book, sure," he says. "Our rule in our house is, if you're not sleeping, the only thing you are allowed to be doing is reading."