The other night I did an overnight babysit and the apartment had the heating programmed to be on all night. I found it way to hot to sleep and seemed to spend the entire night adjusting the radiator and opening/closing the window.
I did only get about 2 hours sleep – and it was in two different blocks. I got the children up and took them to school and returned home and straight to bed.
I have not slept that badly for years and when thinking about it I remembered that this was my norm when I was a teenager. In those days I would sleep for about 2 hours one night and then the next night about 5 hours, and kept repeating this two night pattern until I went to the doctor about my sleep.
Seeing how tired I felt the other morning, and how I was incapable of doing anything other than going to bed made me reflect on how this must have affected my studies at school and college. Nowadays if I do an IQ test I’m up around 140, yet my school teachers thought I wasn’t coping with the work. Some of this was due my dyslexia (which is fortunately much better understood these days) but I now think that my insomnia severely affected my studies.
When revising for my A levels I would spread all my books around my room, and because my Mum would leave me alone ‘to study’, I would end up with droopy eyelids and falling asleep. I ended up with average results.
So, what to yo do if you are a teenager, or a parent of a teenager with sleep problems?
Firstly teenagers sleep is naturally different from an adults and they become Night Owls and naturally go to bed later, finding it hard to sleep before 11pm. They need at least 9 hours sleep and some need more. School and college hours mean that they are not getting enough sleep.
In order to help try and establish a good evening routine that means homework is finished earlier in the evening, allowing time to unwind before bed.
Encourage having a shower or bath before bed, to send sleep triggers to the brain.
Have a no screen time guideline for the last hour before bed, this includes ipads, laptops, smart phones etc.
Reduce the amount of caffeine in the diet remember a lot of soda drinks contain caffeine.
Encourage regular sleeping hours to train the body to sleep but do allow for a small lie-ins at the weekend/holidays for catch up.
Strategic napping can help – as long as it is not for too long nor too close to bedtime.
Make the bedrooms as sleep inducing as possible.
Encourage plenty of exercise – again earlier in the day and at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Discuss sleep with your teenager like an adult. Telling them they need to sleep more and enforcing strict rules may well end in resentment and a lack of co-operation. Give them the facts about sleep and how important it is and what the benefits are. Also point out that getting enough sleep helps with weight control and skin conditions such as acne. Let them come to realise the impotence of sleep themselves. Ask if they want to keep a sleep diary to track the amount that they are getting.
Remember – if you treat sleep and sleep issues with respect, encourage discussion and ask them what they would like to do to improve their sleep, they are far more likely to take it on.
Keep an eye on their sleep patterns and if you suspect that their lack of sleep goes beyond normal teenage patterns then get an appointment with their doctor and discuss the possibility of other sleep problems such as insomnia or sleep apnea.