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Parents: teenage sleep

Teenage sleep. Parents know that sleep is important for their children. However, they might not know just how important getting a healthy night’s sleep can be. Even if they did, how does a parent convince their teenager that they need to go to bed earlier? At a recent parents’ evening, a concerned mother described a scenario which I think is becoming increasingly common in homes across the UK.

Her Y11 daughter said that she studied and revised best between the hours of midnight and 2am. I put forward that this may be the habit that her daughter had created and that it now felt natural but it was a habit that was most likely going to negatively impact her focus during the school day and ultimately her results. Research shows that the main consequences of poor sleep among teenagers are impaired learning and academic performance, behavioural and emotional problems, and worse health.

How much sleep do teenagers need?

Teenagers require eight to 10 hours’ sleep a night, say experts and yet a third of teenagers get an average of between five and six hours per night. The major developmental change that happens during adolescence is when their body’s clock moves to a later timing for sleep and this is thought to account for about one hour of a change.

The most dramatic change noticed by researchers is another two hours of sleep loss and is due to social factors such as work pressures and access to technology. As with parents, balancing these time pressures is hard work. My bedroom in the eighties looked very different from the bedroom of a modern teenager, in fact I think the only electronic device was a radio alarm clock (I thought it was awesome). Scientists have established that just like a healthy diet and exercise, sleep is critical for children to stay healthy, grow, learn, do well in school, and function at their best.

They reckon that screens and other electronic devices are to blame and advise placing strict limits on the use of TVs, mobile phones or computers in a child’s bedroom during the evening. Nearly one in four children admit to falling asleep more than once a week while watching TV, listening to music or during other technical distractions. Virtually all children now have a phone, computer or TV in their bedroom.

To help meet these challenges, families can work together to make sleep a priority, so that everyone has the opportunity to sleep as much as they need in a safe, quiet, comfortable environment. Perhaps not surprisingly, a recent study showed that reducing screen time is paramount.
Here are our top tips for helping your teenager get the best possible sleep:
1. No screen time in the hour leading up to lights out
2. Read for 10-20 minutes before going to sleep
3. No eating, rigorous exercise or caffeine in the hour leading up to bedtime
4. Agree on a bedtime and wake-up time and stick to them
5. Get up promptly in the morning – no lie ins
6. Limit naps in the daytime
7. Open the curtains as soon as you wake
8. Have lower-wattage lights in the bedroom
9. Go outside and get exercise during daylight
10. Do homework early in the evening, don’t leave it till late

Written by Sander de Groot

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