Teenagers and sleep aren’t always natural bedfellows. The reason that stereotypes persist about teenagers staying up until the small hours playing Call Of Duty or using their phones is because there’s an element of truth in them. But what are the effects of poor sleep on teenagers?
The first thing to bear in mind about teenagers and sleep is that they need more sleep than adults – an average of about nine hours per night. Sleep has the same function for teenagers as it does for adults. It’s the time when their brains sort through experiences and consolidate. Whilst sleep has the same function for teenagers it does have greater importance for them.
Because of their still developing brains the link between behavioural problems in teenagers and sleep is very strong. Poor sleep results in poor impulse control, leading to reckless behaviour. There is also a link between poor sleep and hunger. The subsequent danger of obesity from overeating is only increased by the poorer impulse control. Poor sleep will also have a negative effect on teenagers’ mood, concentration, and ability to remember and recall information.
In response to this the TeenSleep project will see up to 100 schools and 32,000 pupils taking part in research about teenagers and sleep. The aim of TeenSleep is to measure the effect of two initiatives. The first is a later start to the school-day to accommodate teenagers’ body-clocks and longer sleep patterns. Results from America already suggest that this measure alone can reduce both truancy and incidents of self-harm.
The second initiative is to give the teenagers lessons in sleep and sleep hygiene. TeenSleep aims to at last be able to measure the effect of these on teenagers’ wellbeing, mental health, and of course exam results. But what can you do if your teenager’s school isn’t taking part in TeenSleep to help them get the quantity, and the quality of sleep that they need?
- The techniques to help with teenagers and sleep problems are essentially the same as they are for adults. Just as with adults the key to success is consistency as well, and this is especially true about establishing a sleep routine with the same times every day – including weekends.
- The next thing to look at is the use of devices like tablets, laptops, and phones in the two hours before sleep is supposed to start. These all give off a blue light which fools the brain into believing that it is still daytime. Instead use the time before sleep to read, to keep a diary, or even to plan the next day, all of which will be more restful.
- Make sure that their environment is giving them the best chance of sleep as well. The bedroom should be dark, quiet, and like Goldilocks’ porridge neither too hot nor too cold. It isn’t just the external environment that needs attention either. The use of caffeinated and sugary drinks to give more energy during the afternoon and evening will only perpetuate bad sleep.
- Finally the important thing is to give the habit of sleep time to become established. After 15 minutes of wakefulness or insomnia your teenager should be back out of bed and doing something to help them relax or wind down. One thing you don’t want to do is to strengthen any link between their bed and the idea of not sleeping.
If you found this post about teenagers and sleep useful why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with three stories every month on the less travelled side of relationships and psychology.