#5 Tips on How to Help Your Teenager Sleep

As I write it is a glorious May day here in Adare. The sun was beating in my window very early this morning and last night we had a lovely long slow sunset as day eventually gave way to night. It was fabulous and reminded me my childhood and the arguments around bedtime and going to sleep.

need help getting your teenager to sleep?Our bedtime when I was in primary school was 7.30pm (my mother admits now that it was ridiculously early!). As a treat, we were allowed up until 8pm on a Friday. Of course, on days like today, 7.30 was like the middle of the day and we had no intention of going to bed – cue arguments.

Looking back I think that was where my love affair with reading in bed began, as I was wide awake in bed reading my Enid By

So, was my mother right putting us to bed so early? How much sleep do children need and why is it so important?

In one study, more than 90 percent of teenagers reported sleeping less than nine hours a night, and 10 percent said they slept less than six hours. As James B. Maas, a Cornell University psychologist and leading sleep researcher has observed, most teenagers are “walking zombies” because they get far too little sleep.

The typical teenager, sleep studies have shown repeatedly, does not fall asleep readily before 11 p.m. or later. Yet many have to get up at 7 a.m. or earlier to get to school. Most will start class at 9 am but many will not be fully alert by then and may be no condition to learn much of anything.

In 1998, before smart phones could be blamed for teenagers’ sleep deprivation, a study of more than 3,000 adolescents by two sleep specialists, Amy R. Wolfson of the College of the Holy Cross and Mary A. Carskadon of Brown University, found that high school students who got poor grades slept an average of 25 minutes less and went to bed 40 minutes later than those who got A’s and B’s.

In their laboratory study of 40 high school students in the United States ( where school starts a lot earlier than here in Ireland), Dr. Carskadon and her colleagues found that nearly half the students who began school at 7:20 a.m. were “pathologically sleepy” at 8:30 a.m. Calling such early start times “abusive,” she said, “These kids may be up and at school at 8:30, but I’m convinced their brains are back on the pillow at home.”

Sleep deprivation results in “three strikes against learning,” Dr. Carskadon said in an interview. “Students are not awake enough to attend to information they’re supposed to be learning, their knowledge acquisition is impaired and their ability to retrieve information is reduced. What is learned during the day is consolidated during sleep.”

So, after having too little sleep on school nights, teenagers try to catch up on their sleep at weekends. We adults tend to view this as typical teenager behaviour but even this solution can backfire because it further distorts their biological clocks and might make it even harder for them to get up on time during the school week.

How to ensure your child sleepsSo what can we as parents do to help our children to sleep better?

  1. Monitor what your child is eating during the day.  Some foods can give children a sugar rush and can, therefore, hinder a good night’s sleep.  Choose slow releasing carbohydrates such as porridge, calcium based food like yogurt (which is also a good protein source) are good too  .  Avoid anything containing caffeine or sugary snacks.
  2. If your child is studying for exams, ban all high energy and caffeine based drinks. They are counter-productive and can be harmful. Some may use the excuse that they need them for their sports – they don’t!
  3. Ensure that your child exercises during the day but not too close to bedtime.  Exercise is important in maintaining fitness and can also help children to sleep better; however If your child is exercising too close to their bedtime it can have the opposite  effect and actually makes them feel more awake. I know this from I do a weekly spin class with my cycling club from 8 to 9 pm. I am always wreaked after the session but the release of endorphins often means that my head is buzzing  and I actually find it hard to sleep, even though I am physically tired.
  4. Ideally avoid, but at least reduce screen-based activities in the hour leading up to bedtime as the light can combat your child’s body’s signals to wind down. I know that this is more difficult than it sounds but with a little planning, it can become part of the evening routine. Have your child get their books and PE gear ready for the morning. Have them set the table for breakfast. Get them to a quick tidy up of their room, or have them do some ironing or put on a wash. With a little careful planning by you, their bedtime routine could make your life a lot easier!
  5. Wake them up at a regular time each morning.  This will help with their natural body clocks to strengthen which in turn helps at the other end of the day.

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