A Simple Way to Help Teens Get More Sleep

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best pillow for teens - image of teenager under covers in bed

There might be a simple way to ensure teens get the sleep they so desperately need—and it has nothing to do with taking away their phones. A new study published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience finds that a comfy pillow and bedding can help teens sleep better.

For the study, 55 Los Angeles teens, ages 14 to 18, wore wristwatch-like monitors to track their sleep quality for two weeks. The high-schoolers then visited the lab to have their brains scanned, and the researchers noticed something surprising: Teens who reported greater satisfaction with their pillow and bedding had better sleep quality. (The researchers defined better sleep quality as fewer wake-ups during the night.) Better sleep quality was associated with greater brain function, while poorer sleep quality was linked to lower brain function and higher impulsivity.

Teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, but most don’t come close to getting that, says Terry Cralle, RN, certified clinical sleep educator and Saatva sleep consultant. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that more than half of teens in the United States are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation in teens can lead to everything from a weakened immune system to depression, Cralle says, noting, “the things we attribute to ‘teen angst,’ like moodiness and irritability, are really often caused by sleep deprivation.”

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As far as what pillow is the best for sleep, it’s all about individual preferences, according to the researchers who worked on this new study. “We found that one size doesn’t fit all,” writes Adriana Galván, one of the study authors, in a piece for Fast Company. “For some people, a flat pancake pillow soothes them into a sound slumber. For others, only a super-puffy cloud will do.”

Cralle says that the study’s findings both surprised and didn’t surprise her. We’re all looking for a magic bullet to help us sleep, she says, but sometimes the answer is right under our noses—or under our heads, in the case of a pillow.

“Sleep has been overlooked for so long—so many people don’t pay attention to it, and they’re also not paying attention to their bedding,” she says. “But it’s so obvious.” Think about it: We’ve all had a less-than-satisfying experience with a hotel room pillow at some point or another. “An uncomfortable pillow does ruin a night’s sleep,” says Cralle.

The bottom line: Ensuring teens get to rest on a comfortable pillow and sheets can set them up for a lifetime of sleep success. And as Galván notes, this sleep solution is more readily available to teens across a wide swath of socio-economic backgrounds than any trendy sleep gadgets. “Because getting comfortable bedding does not involve technology, expensive interventions, or lots of time, it may be particularly beneficial for improving sleep among under-resourced adolescents,” she writes.

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