Why You Really Don't Get More Sleep as Your Kids Get Older

woman lying awake in bed

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Little kids give you little problems while big kids give your big problems.

I heard phrases like this so many times when my kids were little, and now that they are teens, I hear them even more.

While it puts things into perspective, I've never found it to be helpful. When our kids are younger and bedtime lasted no less than an hour, and they would wake several times during the night, parents are incredibly sleep-deprived and keep waiting for it to GO AWAY.

And waiting and waiting…

I think so many of us who were in the trenches thought as soon as our kids were old enough to sleep through the night, we would be back to our old selves. I specifically remember a really difficult stage with my oldest when he was a few months old (he literally wasn't sleeping at all) that made me think, I can't wait until he is 7 or so, then at least he can put himself to bed, and he'll sleep through the night, then I can sleep through the night and feel normal again.

But unfortunately, that's not what happened. While there was a sweet spot when they do finally sleep through the night, but they aren't yet teens, that time is fleeting.

I realized since my oldest turned 12 or so, there are the other factors—big factors—that come into play and like to rob you of your sleeping hours.

It starts with worrying about them a bit more but in different ways. The teen years bring about lots of hormones and changes. Most parents go through a spell when they don't even recognize their own children.

There have been many nights I've tried to connect with my teen only to have him go to bed with barely saying good night, and I've been left to wonder if it is just mood swings, or if something bigger is going on.

This makes parents feel anxious, especially moms, and there's nothing harder than trying to get a good night's sleep if you are worried about someone you love and feel you don't know what's going on in their life.

When they reach an age where they are old enough to go out with their friends in the evening, drive, and have a curfew, you worry that something may happen, or that they may get into a dicey situation and need you.

Not to mention the fact you want to stay awake to make sure they don't miss curfew. I know if I went to bed at a few hours before my son was expected home, and was asleep when he came through the door, he would remember that and think it was okay to miss his curfew because I’d never know.

So, instead of getting the restful sleep I thought I would get as my kids have gotten older, I think I get less. It's harder to fall asleep, and when I wake up at night, it's easy to let my thoughts run away from me.

So, What Can We Do?

We talked with some health experts who shared some wonderful tips to help us reclaim the sleep we need.

Establish trust with your teen.
Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo.com, says the first thing you should do is "establish trust with your teen" if they are at an age where they are able to go out at night with friends. You do this by starting "with a little freedom, and when they prove themselves, give them more.” This will help you rest a bit easier when they are out of the house. He also suggests you:

Limit caffeine in the afternoon and alcohol at night.

Make your bedroom a calming relaxing place. It should feel like a sanctuary. Don't feel selfish about investing in this space—it's a small price to pay for the sleep your need.

Get plenty of sunlight and exercise as both aid in a restful night.

Pick a worry time.
Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C of Baltimore Therapy Center, shared a helpful tip that I've been using for a while now: Pick a "worry time." Designate a half hour or so a day where you allow yourself to worry—make sure it's not too close to bedtime though. There are times I do this and jot some of my worries down if I'm feeling extra anxious. Then, after you have spent time worrying, remind yourself no good will come out of it if you continue to worry. For me, I feel like I get it out of my system, and I'm able to recognize worrying more (especially while lying in bed), isn't going to make any situation better and I need to utilize my energy to be present for my family.

It's important to note that you may have a time when you unable to talk yourself down, and all of these tools aren't working for you, and your anxiety is getting worse. Don't be afraid to reach out to a medical expert and get the help you need.

Sometimes I wonder if I will sleep better when my teens are grown and out of the house, but until then I'll be trying to manage it the best I can. I guess a lack of sleep comes with the job of being a parent regardless of my kids' age. And you know what, they are totally worth it.

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine and is a full-time freelance writer. She's writes about all things parenting, food, and fashion.