Kara* was looking forward to her senior year; after all, junior year had been pretty stressful, and she was certain that her schedule was more manageable this year. Her first few weeks of senior year were great fun, including the Senior Boat Ride. However, as the year progressed and college application deadlines loomed large, Kara realized she was feeling overwhelmed and fatigued. Soon, she was staying up late to finish essays. Kara told her parents about her lack of sleep, leading to an increase in stress, and at times, depression. She thought it might be beneficial to talk with a professional for additional support and resources and her parents wisely agreed.
At Outreach Teen & Family Services, Kara met with a counselor who discussed sleep hygiene, or the practices that people use to achieve good sleep patterns with the goal of feeling well rested throughout the day. Kara had never heard of sleep hygiene. The counselor explained the connection between sleep and emotions. If any of us have a poor night’s sleep, we’re more likely to experience negative emotions, including crankiness, anger, and depression. Sleep is not only important as rest for the body and mind, but also helps us process and cope with the events of the day. Poor sleep can make us more susceptible to mental health symptoms.
The Outreach counselor worked with Kara to identify her current sleep patterns, assisting her in recognizing areas for improvement. Based on some experimenting at home, Kara realized that she felt most rested after nine hours of sleep. This meant going to sleep every night at 9:30 and waking every morning at 6:30. Maintaining a regular sleep pattern, even on the weekends, is the most effective way of feeling well rested. Many teenagers stay up late on weekends, sleeping in late in an attempt to “catch up.” Kara was able to address some of the barriers in sustaining a sleep routine throughout the weekend.
The counselor discussed the use of cell phones and other electronics with Kara, explaining that the particular light emitted from electronics suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle of the body. The counselor suggested ‘tuning out’ one hour prior to bedtime. As expected, this was particularly difficult for an active and involved senior, enjoying her final year of high school. But she agreed to resist the temptation and establish a bedtime ritual or routine that included spending more time in dim light and reading 20 minutes prior to bedtime every night. Other suggestions included avoiding caffeine before bedtime and not napping after school.
After involving Kara’s parents in several of the sessions and discussing common sleep difficulties for both adolescents and adults, Kara’s parents decided that the entire family would establish a goal of better sleep practices. The counselor also shared the unique sleep needs of adolescents versus those of adults. Adolescents naturally need more sleep in their state of growth. Their sleep-wake cycle also shifts such that teens do not naturally feel tired until later in the evening and therefore are naturally inclined to wake later in the morning. This information helped Kara’s parents better understand her needs while helping the entire family to develop healthier sleep patterns.
*Kara represents a typical Outreach client. Details do not correspond with any specific case in order to protect client anonymity.
Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer counseling and educational programs to youth and parents that are affordable, accessible, and discreet; all within a welcoming, supportive environment.