Most parents or caregivers wouldn’t dare dictate their teen’s dinner menu or demand they turn the lights out by 8 p.m. every school night, but there are ways to help adolescents foster healthy habits that will give them a head start in high school and in life. Here are a few tips to help teens sleep more, eat better, and get enough exercise—good practices for people of any age.
Messy bedrooms aren’t the only way some teens practice poor sleep hygiene. The National Sleep Foundation recommends teenagers get between eight and 10 hours sleep a night. But the organization's website referenced research that showed only 15 percent log eight and a half hours on school nights.
Studies have linked lack of sufficient sleep to problems including mental health issues, academic difficulties, substance abuse, and weight gain. While adults can’t exactly tuck teens in at night, experts suggest sharing these tips to help them turn off and turn in:
- Cut off caffeine after 4 p.m. And try to stick to the schedule yourself. Experiment with infused waters or add a little juice to seltzer water for some healthy alternatives to soda and other caffeinated drinks.
- Avoid exercise within three hours of bedtime. This might not be possible given some school and sports schedules, but it’s a good goal.
- Shut down stimulating activities at least an hour before bedtime. This includes homework and smartphone surfing.
- Don’t stock up on sleep over the weekends. Experts say bedtimes and wake times ideally shouldn’t vary by more than an hour on either end whether it’s a school day or a lazy Saturday.
When it comes to nutritional advice for adolescents, doctors tell teens pretty much the same thing they do adults. Young people should be eating balanced meals and healthy snacks that lean heavily on fruits and vegetables. Teens should opt for lean proteins while limiting their intake of red meats.
Most people know the script, even if they don’t stick to it. The good news is that teens typically have fewer years of poor eating habits to make up for than most adults. Here are some tips to help them focus on food that’s good and good for them:
- Cater to their cravings. For example, if they like sandwiches, tacos, and cheese quesadillas, don’t try to force vegan chili on them. Instead, stock up on healthy sandwich fixings and whole grain tortillas and cook up a big batch of turkey taco filling to tame temptation at the drive thru.
- Make snacking simple. Wash fruits and vegetables and keep some cut up in the fridge as easy snack options. Stock up on nuts and other healthy grab-and-go munchies.
- Don’t buy unhealthy options. Even adolescents who prefer Doritos and processed nacho cheese dip will eventually eat multigrain chips and homemade salsa if that’s all that’s available. They are growing teens, after all.
Like their younger peers, teens should get at least an hour of exercise a day. But studies show that half of American adolescent males and 75 percent of females fall short of that goal, according to Time Magazine. Here are a few simple suggestions to help your teen establish a lifelong exercise habit:
- Emphasize the holistic health benefits of exercise. Exercise is critical for maintaining mental and physical health. Regular aerobic exercise boosts energy levels and strengthens the heart, while age-appropriate strength training builds up the other muscles. Exercise also releases natural mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins. What’s more, establishing an exercise habit can help teens maintain a healthy weight and prevent disease for a lifetime.
- Make it fun. Help organize active adventures that your teen will enjoy. That might mean scheduling a hike with the whole family during a camping trip or giving him or her a ride to a skate park on a sunny Saturday.
- Be an exercise role model. Try to maintain an exercise routine for yourself, and even suggest activities you both might enjoy such as tennis or a friendly family game of basketball.
In addition to helping them be healthier, these tips on improving their sleep habits, daily diets, and exercise routines may even boost some testy teens’ moods—a perk parents and peers alike will appreciate.