Around 80% of the young people I work with have problems sleeping. Young people are often awake for most of the night or can’t get to sleep. Last December, I did some training with which helped me to understand more of why teenagers often have problems sleeping and some simple tips that can help improve things.
The Rules Are Different For Young People
During the adolescent years, the brain changes at an incredible rate. Teenagers brains are need to sleep at different times than most adults and children. They need around nine hours quality rest a night. A young person left to sleep when their body needed would probably do so between 2am-11am. This obviously doesn’t fit with the school and work day! But if you are wondering why your son or daughter are still awake at 2am – one answer is because that’s what their brains are designed to do this at their age.
Find Their Natural “Sleep Time”
Everyone has a natural “sleep time.” This isn’t necessarily the time they go to bed but the time they fall asleep. So, the first step in helping a teenager develop a healthier night time pattern, is to find out what this time is. This can be easily done by keeping a note for a week of what time they fall asleep. If someone’s sleep time is 2am, there is no point sending them to bed at 10pm. It simply won’t work as their brain is still in daytime mode.
Any work to improve a teenager’s sleep needs to start by working with their natural sleep time. This may mean allowing them to go to bed later than you may like at first. Work according to their body clock but bring that forward the sleep time by 15 minutes a week. Within a month they will be getting an hour’s extra quality rest every night. That can make a huge difference to their wellbeing during the day.
Develop A Wind Down Routine
During the last hour before bed, it’s good to develop a routine that tells the body it’s time to rest. Ideally (!!) that would mean stopping using mobiles and tablets. This last hour could be spent doing things to help relax. This could include having a hot bath, reading or doing something kinetic. Doing a jigsaw, making something of playing a musical instrument – although not everyone may appreciate this at 1am! All these things tell the brain it is time to get ready to sleep.
Bed Means Sleep
Part of re-programing the brain includes teaching it that getting into bed at a certain time means it’s time to sleep. It’s probably unrealistic to expect all young people to not crawl into their beds at other times in the day. Ideally, in the evening, they should try to only get into their bed’s to sleep. If a young person has spent all evening in their room, it might help them to go to another room for the last hour before bed.
Gaming & Mobile Devices
Lots of teenagers go to bed and then spend hours and hours watching YouTube videos or chatting to friends on social media. Teenagers who can’t do without their devices can change their settings to “nightshift” mode. Settings can be changed so the display changes one hour before they intend to go to bed. This setting alters the colours of the display so it doesn’t tell the brain to stay awake.
If you and your teenager put into action these steps, I’m pretty certain that their sleep will start to improve. Of course, in turn this will improve lots of other aspects in their lives – including their mental wellbeing, learning capacity and physical health.
The Children’s Sleep Charity – loads more great tips on helping children and teenagers
The Link Between Mental Health & Teenage Sleep from the NHS
Therapeutic Work With Young People