3 Signs Your Daughter Needs More Sleep (And 3 Simple Ways You Can Help)

3 Signs Your Daughter Needs More Sleep (And 3 Easy Ways to Help)

Teen girl in turquoise shirt after a lack of sleep.

When she was a baby or a toddler, chances are you had your daughter’s sleep routine down to a science. The parenting books are chockablock full of sleep guidance for new moms and dads—and since she was so little and didn’t have the schedule of an older kid, sleep could be a front-and-center priority without anything else getting in the way.

But now that she’s older, has team practice, homework, a full social calendar, and possibly even a part-time job, sleep might be getting deprioritized to the point that it’s hurting your girl. Did you know that kids between six and 12 need between nine and 12 hours of sleep? And that high school students need between eight and 10?

Did you also know that according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, high school girls get, on average, a full hour less sleep than their male counterparts each weeknight? The report didn't say why, but regardless of the reason, this is a big problem.

“Sleep is so important in terms of our emotional and physical health—just as important as the nutritious food we eat and the exercise we get,” says Girl Scouts developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “In fact, studies show that a lack of sleep can contribute to increased risk of drug use, obesity, and feelings of depression—all three of which have been indicated by the Girl Scout Research Institute as growing problems of this generation of girls.”

So we should all be concerned that girls are getting short-changed when it comes to sleep. If we want our girls to be happy and successful—which of course we do—we have to help them in this department. How can you do that, though? The first step is to determine whether there’s a problem that needs fixing in the first place.

Look for These Signs of Sleep Deprivation

1. Increased irritability

Although there are many reasons your girl might reasonably feel angry, frustrated or annoyed, it’s important to know that a lack of sleep could definitely be a factor here. When young people (or any of us for that matter) don’t get enough sleep, the connections between the part of our brain that processes emotions and the part of our brain that controls decision-making don’t function properly, which can lead to people being generally cranky and acting out.

2. She’s always hungry
The hormones that control our hunger levels get thrown out of whack when we haven’t rested properly. Specifically, a hormone called grehlin, which tells our bodies we need to eat, is released to the body in higher quantities, and the hormone that tells our brains we’re satisfied is lowered. All of this can lead your sleep-deprived daughter to snack her way through the day even if she doesn’t really need the fuel.

3. Her grades are slipping
Staying up all night (or even just very late) to study for a test may do more harm than good, because a lack of proper rest can decrease her focus and possibly lead to her doing worse on the exam. Here’s the thing: sleep affects many brain functions including critical thinking, our ability to take in and remember new information (learning in general!), and creativity. To do well in school, she needs to have all those abilities functioning at their best, so a lack of sleep is only going to lower her academic performance. We can’t promise that getting more zzzs will lead to college scholarships, but it certainly won’t hurt!

Help Her Get More Sleep

1. Plan for and prioritize sleep
While some students and parents are pushing for later school start times so that tweens and teens— who naturally stay awake later into the night than younger children and older adults—can get more rest, those early wake-ups may be non-negotiable for some. Regardless of when she’s got to rise and shine, do the math to figure out when your daughter would need to be asleep in order to get the recommended amount of rest before morning. Set her bedtime about half an hour before that (so she has time to fall asleep!), then plan homework and other activities around that time. Of course an occasional away game with her sports team or an evening concert might push her bedtime a bit later, but make sure that’s only a once in a while issue, not nightly or even weekly. But more than that? Set your kids up to love sleep and to see it as a good thing by emphasizing that it’s something that you and other people they look up to (athletes and celebs tweet plenty about needing more shut-eye!) crave. And resist the urge to threaten early bedtime as a punishment for naughty behavior—that’s a surefire way to poison their views on sleep.

2. Banish phones from the bedroom
Her cell phone is the enemy of sleep. Seriously! Not only does the type of light emitted from her screen send “it’s time to be awake” signals to her brain, making it harder for her to doze off, but the temptation to keep up with group texts or social media past bedtime can be too much to resist. And if she does manage to zonk out despite her phone being nearby, the alerts of incoming messages, updates, and other things can disrupt her and lower the quality of sleep she’s getting. Of course she’ll argue that she uses her phone for an alarm clock (too many of us are guilty of that!) but the solution to that one is simple: get her an old-fashioned alarm clock!

3. Curb the caffeine
When your girl is tired, chances are, she reaches for a Starbucks or a soda to perk up. The problem is that caffeine can stay in her (or any person’s!) system for many hours. That means the caffeine your girl is drinking to ward off afternoon sleepiness can actually lead to her having trouble falling asleep that night…which leads to more sleep deprivation and increased grogginess. It’s a vicious cycle! Based on studies, scientists recommend stopping caffeine intake at least six hours before bedtime. If she really needs a pick-me-up late in the afternoon, have her try a protein-based snack like almonds, doing some brisk exercise (even a mini-dance party to one of her favorite songs could help!) or sipping on some lemon water. Dehydration can be a cause of tiredness, too! And if it’s only a few hours to bedtime, but she needs a study snack? String cheese or whole wheat toast are good bets, since they’ll give her a little boost but can also help her sleep. Dairy and carbs won’t make her feel too awake the way other choices might.

Of course these tips could lead to happier and healthier lives for all of us (sleep is good for everyone, obviously!)—but since the sleep deficit is so pronounced among girls, it’s important to focus on your daughter’s needs specifically. That said? It’ll be easier for her to adopt healthy sleep habits if your whole family is following suit. Leading by example in this case could have major benefits for everyone. Here’s to sweet dreams and bright, fully-rested mornings!