College, entering the workforce, or living on one’s own can all be big transitions for young adults after high school. Experts recommend a full seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but many Americans get by on less. Adolescent sleep authority and Brown University professor Dr. Mary Carskadon stresses that sleep is a biological need that should be taken seriously. Sleep can help improve mood, attention and focus, decrease risky behaviors, and decrease risk for depression.
As a parent, you may have had a say in how much sleep your kid got as they were growing up, but once they’re out of the house it can be more difficult to ensure that healthy behavior. Additionally, the pressures of late-night studying, partying, or careers with late hours can all impact a young adult’s ability to get a good night’s rest. But there are still a few ways you can encourage your young adult from afar to maintain a healthy sleep schedule (and maybe pick up a few tips for yourself, too!)
Talk about it regularly
Just as you may ask about their classes, friends, or colleagues, ask about their sleeping habits. You may ask them if they are exercising, eating well, and sleep is not different, says Director of Sleep Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital Dr. Judith Owens. If you want to ask in ways other than simply saying “Are you getting enough sleep?” you can ask about their roommate(s); “Are they noisy? Do they stay up later than you?” Living with others can have a big impact in the quality or amount of sleep young adults get.
Share the benefits
CEO of Sleep for Success and author Dr. James Maas says the best thing you can do is share the benefits of sleep with your young adult, based on what they really want to accomplish at this time. Do they want to be better athletes? Get better grades? Perform better at the office? Make more responsible decisions? All of those goals can be impacted by sleep, or a lack thereof. Dr. Maas says even one more hour of sleep a night can make a huge difference in achievement. Beyond accomplishments, sleep also can help to maintain a healthy weight, which could hit home for college students who may be experiencing the “freshman 15.”
Talk about caffeine
Dr. Owens reminds us that caffeine and other stimulants are not a substitute for sleep. A lot of the benefits of sleep go beyond being awake; from mood to weight to long-term health. It’s often easy to forget that being tired is the only consequence of not sleeping enough, and that a cup of coffee is not a cure.
Whether you’re advising your student on the schedule for classes or talking about their new social life, ask about their plans for sleep. Do they have class two days a week at eight o’clock and noon the other days? Suggest they continue to get up at the same time every day. Keeping a routine can help your teen get enough sleep regularly.
Consider a care package
Whether in the dorms, a new apartment, or new town, a change in environment can disrupt sleep patterns. Some families like to send small care packages to young adults as a way to stay connected. If you do that, consider adding a few sleep-centered items as well. Ear plugs, an eye mask, or even curtains can help your teen build sleep into their new life.
Talk about transportation
If your young adult is driving to work late at night, or driving home from college for a visit, talk about the dangers of driving while sleepy. Sleepiness is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents among teenagers. In the case of college students, you may want to encourage them to take public transportation instead or pick them up yourself.
Pay attention when you’re together
Are they visiting for a weekend or holidays? Do you take a family trip together? Pay attention to their sleep schedule when you are together. If they are sleeping extremely long, Dr. Owens says that can be a good indication that they aren’t getting enough sleep and then that’s a great time to address the issue.
Practice what you preach
The time is over for us to think that a lack of sleep is “macho,” explains Dr. Maas. You can set a good example for your young adult by simply making sleep a priority for yourself, too. When they’re visiting, or if they’re still living with you, make going to bed at night a priority. Help yourself get up in the morning by going outside immediately, as sunlight can profoundly impact your body’s own waking/resting rhythm. If you get up before it’s light or live in a colder climate, Dr. Maas recommends trying judicious use of light therapy, which is essentially purchasing a daylight simulator that exposes you to artificial light. 10 to 15 minutes in the morning in front of the light can make a huge difference with your ability to become a morning person.