Night Time Routines for Positive Teen Mental Health

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Dr Lucy Russell Clinical Psychologist Founder of They Are The Future
Author: Dr Lucy Russell, Clinical Psychologist

Positive teen mental health takes consistent effort from us as parents, particularly in our modern, tech-filled, on-the-go culture.

I have two teenagers and for me, evening routine is a particularly important part of a mentally healthy lifestyle.

It helps the nervous system stay calm and allows time for winding down ready for a healthy night’s sleep.

Here are my best tips from my personal experience and from my twenty plus years as a clinical psychologist working with teens.

a teenage boy reading in the evening with a lamp behind him

Strategy NumberStrategy DescriptionKey Components
1Use a visual planner to establish a routineSimplify tasks, use visual aids, and be flexible with timings
2Set a fixed time to end studyingEncourage rest periods, establish clear boundaries, and create a commitment to wind down
3Engage in gentle exerciseFavour yoga or stretching to stimulate relaxation and avoid intense workouts at night
4Create a pre-bedtime routineLower sensory inputs and create calming environments with dim lights and soft sounds
5Utilise a worry box or journal for anxietiesHelps articulate and manage worries to clear the mind before sleep
6Mimic ancient routines (think like a caveperson)Avoid overstimulating activities in the evening and engage in relaxing, natural activities
7Prepare for the next day before bedtimeOrganise necessary items and responsibilities to alleviate morning stress

1. Use a Visual Planner to Create a Routine

Visual planners reduce overload.

When your teenager is clear what to do next, they don’t have to think about it.

When they are tired, they will procrastinate less.

Keep the planner simple.

Use colour and pictures.

Don’t be too rigid about timings.

Here’s an example.

Positive teen mental health - example of an evening planner

2. Choose a Time to Stop Studying, and Stick to It

It’s vital that the body gets a chance to move into “rest and digest” mode from action/doing mode.

For positive teen mental health teach your child to have clear boundaries in the evenings.

Ask them to make a commitment.

For example:

After 7.30pm I will close my books, switch my computer off, and start to wind down.

teen girl relaxing with a scented candle

3. Gentle Exercise Only

Gentle exercise such as stretching or yoga will reduce tension in the body.

It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest”.

This helps us wind down successfully ready for bed. (Read more about the parasympathetic nervous system and “rest and digest” in this article.)

It is important your child doesn’t do intense exercise in the late evenings.

Endorphins produced by intense aerobic exercise can disrupt sleep.

Aerobic exercise also raises the body’s core temperature, which signals to the body that it is time to wake up (not sleep).

4. Set up a “Pre-Bedtime Runway”

A pre-bedtime runway is an essential tool for positive teen mental health. It primes the body to relax, by giving the body deliberate and unmistakeable signals to chill out.

At least an hour before your bed, your child should practise calming each of the senses in turn. Turn down the volume on the TV or music, talk in a softer voice, dim the lights, consider using relaxing smells (eg candles, oils) or tastes (eg hot chocolate). Avoid caffeine at night time at all costs. Ensure your child stops using electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime.

5. Use a Worry Box or Journal if Anxious/Sensitive

Often, worries come to life in evenings and decide to have a party.

They swirl around in your child’s mind, gathering momentum.

Journaling or using a worry box are powerful strategies. They teach your teen:

  1. To put the worry into words. This prevents it from being a vague cloud of worry. “Name it to tame it”.
  2. Getting the worry onto paper diminishes its power and allows your teenager to go to sleep with a clearer head. Strategies such as these for managing worries are critical to positive teen mental health.

Read more about worry boxes in this article.

a mother and daughter chatting and relaxing at home

6. Think Like a Caveperson

Our brains have not evolved to cope with modern life.

The circadian rhythm and nervous system may be easily upset by small things like loud music or shouting, leading to over-stimulation.

Our distant ancestors lived according to the gentle ebb and flow of nature, without electric light or power. They would have had only the gentle light from a fire to see by.

I can picture them sitting round a campfire, talking, perhaps singing or softly  drumming.

The reduction in light entering the caveperson’s pineal gland would have triggered the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

A short while later they would drift into a natural, deep sleep.

Don’t allow your teenager to do exciting or overstimulating activities in the evening. It confuses brain and body, so the release of melatonin may get interrupted.

Advise gentle exercise only (such as yoga, stretching or walking) for the same reason.

Avoid bright light.

a teenage boy relaxing in the evening

7. Prep For Tomorrow

Encourage your teenager to prepare for the next day before bedtime.

This helps reduce bedtime stress and promotes a restful night’s sleep. Guide them in organizing their school materials and packing their bag if necessary.

Help younger teens to lay out their uniform or clothes, and together, prepare their lunch if needed.

This routine will give them a sense of accomplishment and readiness for the day ahead.

Related Articles

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Teenage Low Self-Esteem Statistics

Growth Mindset For Teens: A Parent’s Blueprint for Teen Success

Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years. In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children.

Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.

Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.

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