Sleep problems at this age usually involve having a late sleep phase. Teenagers will commonly stay up late on the weekends and then sleep in the next day, sometimes until noon. This carries over into the school week and can cause difficulty falling asleep at a proper time on school nights.
It is now well known that being sleep deprived can lead to behavioral and attentional problems in school, so it is important that your teen gets enough sleep.
How much sleep should your teen be getting at night? Usually about 8-9 hours, with younger teens, aged 13-14 years, needing about 9 hours and older teens about 8.
One way to prevent sleep problems and a late sleep phase is to encourage a routine of falling asleep and waking up at about the same time each day, including weekends and vacations.
It can also help to avoid a lot of drinks with caffeine and give your child responsiblity for going to sleep and waking herself up.
One usual suggestion, to make a child's bedroom a sleep-only zone, doesn't usually work because teens often need some privacy and time away. It may help to make the bed a sleep-only zone, with your child not watching TV, reading or doing other things while in bed.
Also, if your child can't fall asleep after 10-15 mintues in bed, you might recommend that she get up and do something else, like read a book or write in a journal. Watching TV or listening to the radio should be discouraged if she is having trouble sleeping or as part of a bedtime routine.
Late Sleep Phase
As treatment to fix a late sleep phase, it is sometimes necessary to allow your teen to stay up until the time that she easily falls asleep. This might be midnight or 1 am. You can usually find this time by seeing what time your child eventually falls asleep. Many children with a late sleep phase will lay in bed for hours until the time that they will naturally fall asleep. According to Dr. Ferber, in his book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, these children will have a 'consistent (but late) time of falling asleep.'
Once your child gets in the habit of falling asleep quickly at her natural bedtime, you can then move her bedtime back by 10-15 minutes every 3-4 days. During this time, you should insist on a regular morning wake up time to get ready for school and on weekends too.
The alternative is to start in the morning and allow your child to sleep in until her natural wake up time. You can then begin to wake her up 15 minutes early every few mornings. This will likely make her more tired in the evening and she will gradually begin going to sleep earlier. This technique is more difficult if your child has to wake up early though to go to school, but might work over a school break or summer vacation.
Either method should help move her to a more regular sleep cycle.
If your child has a very late sleep phase, perhaps falling asleep at 4 or 5 am, Dr. Ferber describes another method where your teen goes to sleep even later, as you try to shift her sleep schedule to a more normal time. So the first night, instead of 4 or 5 am, she might have to stay up until 7 am and then wake up at 3 pm. The next night, she would stay up until 10 am and wake at 6 pm and she would continue to shift her sleep and wake up night until she got to a more normal schedule.
In general, sleep medications are discouraged from being used routinely in children. Drugs, like Benadryl, an antihistamine, may help your child fall asleep, but she may be groggy the next day and the sleep problems will likely return once she stops taking them.
If your child has a sleep problem and other medical problems, like cerebral palsy, autism or learning problems, then melatonin might help your child sleep better.
Sleep problems are also common in kids with ADHD. It is important to try and figure out if these sleep problems, especially if your child has difficulty falling asleep, are a side effect of any ADHD medication he might be taking, such as Ritalin or Adderall, or if their sleep problems might be contributing to their attentional and behavioral problems.
Also if your child has other medical problems, like depression or if he is very aggressive and has emotional or behavioral problems, then the medications that treat these disorders, like antidepressants, Clonidine and Risperdal, can also help your child to sleep better.
Medical Causes of Sleep Problems
It is also important to recognize that sleep problems can be a sign of more serious conditions, like depression, drug use, obstructive sleep apnea, and school avoidance. If you aren't making progress with your child's sleep problems and it is affecting her school work or behavior, a visit to your Pediatrician would be a good idea, especially if you suspect that she might be depressed or have some other cause for her sleep problems.