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When our children are small we pride ourselves on establishing a sleep routine; we ask how babies and toddlers are sleeping and we are delighted when they sleep through the night. We don’t think about our children’s sleeping habits a great deal after that – and we should, particularly when we have teenagers at secondary school and beyond.
Sleep is food for the brain, according to the Sleep Foundation. During sleep, important bodily functions and brain activity take place and skipping sleep is very harmful; apart from looking drawn and exhausted, lack of sleep leads to increased moodiness – it becomes harder to get on with friends and family, and poor performance at school as a result of a decreasing ability to problem-solve. Teenagers who regularly forget to hand in homework may be sleep-deprived. More importantly, lack of sleep means that teenagers are much more likely to suffer from poor health. Good sleep is vital for a growing teenager, it helps regulate eating – so there will be less need for a sugar rush – and it helps to manage the natural stress of being a teenager.
Biological sleep patterns start to shift later during the teenage years, which does not help them to get a restful night before school, and it may be natural for teenagers not to fall asleep before 10 or 11pm and many teenagers have very irregular sleep patterns, staying up late during the week and sleeping in very late at weekends, which disrupts their body clocks. A typical teenager needs between 8 and 10 hours sleep every night and a recent study found that only 15% got this much sleep.
The solution is to make sleep a priority; the bedroom needs to be a sleep haven so it should be cool, quiet and dark. No amount of caffeine can replace good sleep and drinking caffeine before bedtime can destroy sleep so avoid coffee/tea/cola/hot chocolate late in the day. Try to establish a bedtime routine that involves winding down in the hour before bed. Avoid staying up late to complete homework. A consistent sleep pattern will help the body to get in sync with its natural patterns so try to go to bed at roughly the same time every night.
The best solution is going to be the least popular one… Mobile devices in the bedroom omit a bright white light that affects the production of melatonin so prise the iPad or mobile phone out of their hands and keep them out of the bedroom – this could have the most significant impact on a teenager’s ability to get a good night’s sleep!
Deputy Head (Pastoral)