Schools often report that they see exhausted children coming through their gates every morning. Whilst there are arguments that the school day should start later, and that this would be of benefit to a lot of teens, the practicalities seem to make this not possible for now. We often have to work within reality, so helping teens adapt to the demands of their school schedule and get enough sleep in time to go to school refreshed is important.
Teens need to get around 9 hours of sleep a night. Many teens do not get this amount of sleep, and there are many reasons they do not get enough sleep. Given that learning is their job, they need to have the opportunity to optimise their ability to learn. Sleep is essential to maintain both physical and mental health.
The need to rest is evolutionary. Inactivity allows us to conserve energy, repair our mental and physical systems, rejuvenate our minds and bodies, process the events and lessons from the day, and maintain neuroplasticity (the ability to use all parts of our brain to continue to learn). Sleep is essential for teens to optimise their performance when they are awake.
There are various theories regarding the purpose of dreams, but all support the concept that REM sleep (dream sleep) is somehow important. It seems that REM sleep may act towards mental housekeeping – sorting events from short term memory to long term memory, building neural pathways to improve our procedural capabilities (knowing how to perform a task) and process our emotional responses to situations. A good nights’ sleep allows us to tidy away yesterday and face each new day ready to take charge
Lack of sleep compromises one’s ability to concentrate and respond rationally. Mood swings, irritability, problems learning, and increased risk of accidents are all associated with sleep debt or deprivation. When we deprive ourselves of an optimal amount sleep our personal sleep debt accumulates. Hence you may find that you spend the weekend attempting to pay back this sleep debt, and live in a compromised state every other day.
Over the long term, physical ailments occur if you do not receive enough sleep. Conditions attached to sleep debt and deprivation includes diabetes, weakened immunity systems, high blood pressure, lowered sex drive, heart conditions, and mental health issues such as clinical depression and heighted stress responses.
So the importance of sleep is clear, but getting teens to go to bed can be extremely difficult. Mention bedtime routines among parents of teens, and you will experience the universal rolling of eyes in exhaustion. Our guidelines for parents include the following
Encouraging healthy sleep patterns for your teen.
Remember that YOU are the parent. The teenage years are a welcome reprieve after the constant care required through infancy and childhood. Your offspring can now dress themselves, travel independently, and organise themselves (occasionally). But teenagers aren’t fully cooked, and still require active support. Especially around boundaries of healthy and unhealthy behaviours. Whilst sleep and bedtime are bound to be the topic of many a parent teen conflict, I encourage you that this battle is well worth fighting for (verbally).
Set a regular bed time and help your teen keep to it. Having a regular bedtime trains your body to start to wind down in a trained fashion. Given that teens require 9 hours sleep, in order for them to rise well rested at 7am they need to be in bed, asleep by 10am. Do not rely only on the weekend to catch up on sleep.
Encourage naps. Children resist napping as they get older. Try to encourage your teen to take a nap occasionally.
Break bad behaviours. Screens provide light and stimulate teens minds, in the worst way. In order to help your teen wind down for bedtime encourage them to put down their devices at least an hour before their bedtime. Be prepared to have a fight. No parent I know has installed tech free time, without an old-fashioned toddler worthy temper tantrum.
Ready, Steady: Encourage your teen to get themselves ready for the next day the night before school, rather than in the morning. This will allow them to wake without stress, and go to bed assured that they are ready for the next day.
Turn up the calm. Taking a bath, writing in a journal, colouring pictures, drinking cocoa, listening to music, reading in bed all encourage the body to start to relax. Use the hour, or half hour before bed time to train your teen’s body to get ready to rest. Children who suffer from anxiety may benefit from guided mediations (on CD or tape or Ipod, not on the internet)
The bed as a nest. A tidy room with minimal clutter, blackout curtains, weighted blankets all enhance the feeling of being settled in bed.
Reinforce positive sleep behaviours. When your teen goes to bed on time or get up in a good mood make sure that you make note. No teenager will admit it, but your praise is still important.
We have a new generation of people with our teens. We are raising a generation of people who have never NOT had access to the internet. Many of them carry and posses a personal computer or phone by the age of 12. They are, in the first world at least, privileged, unlikely to go hungry, can create a completely artificial self-image, have limitless mentors (both positive and negative. They will face a world of work beyond our experience, with many unknowns. So many things have changed. The need for sleep has not. Our new world teens, still the guidance of their new world parents.
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