3 Steps to Get Your Teen to Bed on Time and Well Rested for the School Day.

It’s 7:20 am, the alarm is ringing, and your teen is reaching for the snooze button… again. This is a familiar scene playing in bedrooms everywhere, each and every morning. In my practice, I encounter parents who are throwing up their hands out of frustration from the daily push and pull of getting a child up in the morning. 

There are a variety of reasons that a teen may struggle to get up in the morning, but I believe that one of the number one reasons is general procrastination and lollygagging the evening before. I have found that many teens are overwhelmed with pressure (internal or external) and other negative feelings around homework that lead them to avoid their homework. Each time they sit down, the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings bubble up. “I won’t be able to get this all done!” “This has to be done just right!” “I want to impress my teacher/parents/peers with this project. So much is riding on this!”  Understandably, they don’t feel good sitting with a blank computer screen, the large problem set assigned, or the thick chapter of history reading looming ahead, and they turn to YouTube, texting, or some other distraction. Before they know it, an hour has passed by, and they are even farther behind, “Oh, no! NOW, I won’t get to bed until really late! I just wasted an hour! Argh!” 

The cycle catches fire, they grow in anxiety, and they procrastinate even more as the hours tick by. Before long, it is late in the night, parents have gone to bed, and they still have homework to do. Tired teens finally go to bed, and not surprisingly, they struggle to get up in the morning with such a short night of rest. I believe that one of the best ways to get up on time in the morning is to get to bed at night at a reasonable hour. Here are some strategies for coping with procrastination at night.  

1. Assess

Start by completing a thorough and complete assessment of how much sleep your teen needs to be alert, relaxed and in a better mood throughout the day. The National Sleep Foundation reports that teens need about 9 hours of sleep each night. Some teens may need a little less, some a little more.  

2. Set a schedule

Many experts agree that school start times are too early, but there is little that parents can do to change that! Work backward, determining what time school starts and when your teen needs to walk out the door. Set a bedtime and help your teen set up a schedule that includes work time and breaks. I always tell teens and their parents that breaks are fine as long as they are on the teen’s terms, they are chosen, not “stolen” by avoidance and procrastination. I think the exact ratio of work to breaks varies by individual and the child’s age. Many experts recommend working for thirty minutes with a five-minute break. Breaks might include getting up to walk around the house, grab a snack, etc.  

3. Tackle the uncomfortable feelings head on

I am a huge proponent of developing greater awareness and addressing the negative feelings directly. I advise teens to make note of and recognize the desire to shift from homework to YouTube as an indication of the presence of anxiety and stress. Sure, it is natural to want to play rather work, but I think pressure exacerbates this dilemma. Sometimes, identifying the underlying motivation can help a teen make a more conscious decision in the moment, “Do I want to put off the stress of doing this work now, or do I want to tackle it head-on, knowing that putting it off will only worsen the problem?”  

Plus, getting up on time

Ok, so your teen is improving on getting to bed on time, but what about actually getting up and out of bed in the morning? Some tools that teens in my practice have found helpful involve innovative alarms. The Sleep Cycle app analyzes an individual’s sleep patterns and provides an appealing alarm timed with the ideal moment in their sleep cycle (you provide a thirty-minute window in which you want to wake). Another useful app is Step Out of Bed, which involves an alarm at a set time that can only be turned off once the individual has taken a predetermined number of steps. 

So, there you have it. Some thoughts and reflection on helping your teen tackle procrastination at night and wake in the morning without the usual conflict and frustration. Let us know how it goes! 

By Laura C. Kauffman, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist