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What can I do when my teen doesn't sleep well?

As parents, we all want our teenagers to get the rest they need to function well during the day. But did you know that there are specific ways you can help your teen sleep better? This article will provide insights and practical advice to ensure you and your teen get the crucial rest they need.

Nowadays, sleep deprivation has become a prevalent issue, negatively affecting many aspects of overall well-being.

For adolescents, hormonal changes during puberty can also disrupt sleep patterns by increasing sensitivity to stressors and altering the body's internal clock. Similarly, adults may experience heightened levels of stress due to career demands, financial concerns, or family responsibilities, further exacerbating sleep difficulties. Additionally, exposure to screens emitting blue light from electronic devices before bedtime can suppress the production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.

The pervasive culture of busyness and the glorification of "hustle" further exacerbate this problem, perpetuating the misconception that sleep is dispensable. Consequently, a significant portion of the population fails to obtain the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep per night, resulting in adverse effects on physical health, cognitive function, and overall well-being.

This article will focus on providing 4 important steps for you to complete over several weeks, for you or family members such as your teen, to restore healthy sleep patterns.

1. Get morning sunlight.

Morning natural light exposure plays a crucial role in regulating sleep patterns and overall well-being. Exposure to sunlight in the morning helps to synchronize the body's internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which governs the sleep-wake cycle. This exposure triggers the suppression of melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleepiness, while simultaneously increasing serotonin production, which promotes wakefulness and alertness.


By receiving ample natural light in the morning, individuals signal to their bodies that it is time to be awake and active, setting the stage for the production of melatonin in the evenings, promoting a more restful night's sleep. This natural light exposure not only enhances sleep quality but also helps to alleviate symptoms of insomnia, jet lag, and other sleep disorders by reinforcing the body's innate sleep-wake cycle. Additionally, exposure to morning sunlight has been linked to improved mood, increased energy levels, and enhanced cognitive function throughout the day, highlighting its importance in maintaining optimal sleep health and overall wellness.

The objective is to get approximately 15-20 minutes outside before 11 AM every morning, regardless of the seasons or sunshine levels.

You are welcome to download an app called “Dminder.” This free app will give you an idea of the light exposure you are receiving and the vitamin D levels you are exposed to, depending on the location you live in.

2. Deactivate your nervous system to turn off your brain.

Learning to deactivate the nervous system through relaxation techniques can significantly improve sleep patterns and overall sleep quality. Chronic stress and anxiety activate the sympathetic nervous system, leading to heightened arousal and difficulty falling asleep.


By practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or improving vagal tone, individuals can effectively activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and counteracts the body's stress response. These techniques help to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increase the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that induces feelings of calmness and tranquility. As a result, the body becomes able to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

The activation of the nervous system is a primary reason why both teens and adults often struggle to fall asleep and maintain a restful night's sleep. In today's fast-paced world, individuals face various stressors, including academic pressure, work deadlines, social obligations, and technological stimulation, all of which can activate the sympathetic nervous system, heightening arousal and inhibiting relaxation.

Incorporating regular relaxation practices into one's bedtime routine can help to alleviate tension, quiet the mind, and create a conducive environment for restorative sleep, ultimately contributing to healthier sleep patterns and overall well-being.

Here are strategies you can practice during the day and in the evening, especially 1 or 2 hours before bedtime, to deactivate the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system:

- Cyclic breathing strategy: breathe in for 3 seconds, then pause your breathing by holding your breath, then breathe in for 4 more seconds, then pause breath, then exhale slowly. Repeat x3 with long exhales.

- Keeping your head straight and without turning your head, turn both eyes to the left corners without moving your neck and head. Keep your eyes to the left corners of your head until a sign of relaxation appears, such as a sigh, swallow, yawn, or chewing. Then repeat to the right corners of your head.

- Self-massage your shoulders and neck. With your fingers, touch the side of your neck, and gently pinch out the cords of your neck. Massage each cord for a few seconds. Place your fingers right above the clavicle and base of the neck and massage for a few seconds.

- Listen to “Listen to Sleep” podcast by Erik to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and improve relaxation. This podcast is free and is appropriate for your children to listen to. You are welcome to visit

3. Replenish your body with minerals, vitamins, and amino acids to create a balanced wake-sleep cycle (this chapter doesn’t include melatonin supplementation).

Creating and maintaining a healthy gut is essential for promoting good-quality sleep. The gut microbiome, composed of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes, plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, including sleep regulation. A balanced and diverse gut microbiota contributes to the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin, which are involved in regulating sleep-wake cycles. Additionally, an unhealthy gut can lead to inflammation and disruption of hormonal balance, both of which can negatively impact sleep patterns.

Therefore, fostering a healthy gut through a diet rich in fiber, probiotics, prebiotics, and protein, and limiting sugar intake, gluten, and processed foods can significantly improve sleep quality and overall well-being.

Limiting your caffeine intake to one cup per day, before 1 PM is also key.

You are welcome to also boost your body with nutrients necessary for good quality sleep:

  • 5 HTP

  • L Theanine

  • Magnesium glycinate

  • GABA

  • Vitamin D

Please check with a doctor or an Integrated Health Practitioner before taking any of the supplements mentioned above, as some may counteract with certain health issues and medications. It is important to respect correct dosing for yourself and your teen.

4. Move your body.

In order to establish good sleep patterns, it is important for you to move your body every day.

Exercise helps to regulate the body's circadian rhythm, the internal clock that governs the sleep-wake cycle, by promoting the secretion of hormones such as melatonin, which regulates sleep. Additionally, engaging in physical activity reduces feelings of stress and anxiety, which are common contributors to sleep disturbances.

Exercise also raises the body's core temperature, and when it subsequently drops after exercise, it signals to the body that it's time to rest, facilitating deeper and more restorative sleep. However, it's important to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it can have the opposite effect and disrupt sleep. Incorporating regular physical activity into one's routine can lead to more restful and rejuvenating sleep, improving overall health and well-being.

The objective is not for you or your teen to do intense workouts every day, as it can further trigger and activate the nervous system.

Here are activities you can do that will help restore your sleep patterns and heal your nervous system at the same time:

  • 20 min slow walk

  • 20 min of stretching or yoga, especially shoulder and hip stretching

  • 20 min of light swimming or just being in water

  • 20 min of light biking (no spinning class as this is too intense) or skating, skateboarding.

  • 20 minutes of skiing, skating, snowboarding

  • 30 min of light horse riding

  • 30 min of light dancing

You are welcome to try each of the 4 points mentioned above. These recommendations are to implement at your pace and to modify to your own life and routine. Be aware of what your body or your teen's body is telling.

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