What is better in the world than laying your head on the pillow at night, breathing those last tired sighs and tumbling into restful oblivion?
The restorative value of a good night’s sleep is obvious. However, our children, particularly our teenagers, are becoming less and less likely to experience the benefits of
Sound sleep is one of the easiest and most powerful factors we can control in ensuring our kids are emotionally and physically equipped for the demands of daily life and learning.
All Those Hormones
During early adolescence, the change in a child’s hormones means that they are likely to find it difficult to go to sleep as quickly and as early as they have previously. This is a result of a change in the timing of their brain’s production of melatonin.
This change also means that they will have trouble waking up early in the morning. There is a stereotype that teenagers are just slack, but these biological changes are very real. Therefore, it is essential that parents assist by creating routines that create healthy sleep patterns.
Adolescents enhance the problem of fatigue by entertaining themselves in the hours before they fall asleep with electronic media. By nature, the movement, colour and noise of these devices activate the brain making it even harder to fall asleep. Light from devices also cues the brain to stay in a state of alertness.
Phones in the bedroom ‘bing’ throughout the night. Sometimes it might be friends messaging, other times it’s the sound of random notifications from applications. This noise is specifically designed to grab our attention, so naturally, it rouses kids out of their deep, restorative sleep. The excuse is often that the phone also acts as an alarm clock. Purchasing an actual alarm clock would be well worth the investment.
All digital devices need to be collected from kids at least an hour before bedtime. Parents can lead the way by example. Many families have a phone storage box or central charging station where all devices are stored overnight. It’s a great idea.
Children’s lives are busy. They are scheduled with afterschool activities, as well as homework, socialising and school itself. The brain is being trained to be continually active, so it is not surprising that kids find it hard to wind down at the end of the day.
Perhaps we could all learn from those cultures that value more stillness. Western culture tends to value movement and productivity. It is not necessary or healthy to be always in action.
Impact of Lack of Sleep on Learning
When looking at schooling, the biggest problem with sleep deprivation is that the prefrontal cortex of the brain does not cope well with lack of sleep. As the prefrontal cortex is where the tools for learning reside, this is a real issue.
Santa Maria College Psychologist, Christine Davis explains, “During adolescence, the brain undergoes major structural changes, especially in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is crucial for planning, attention, analytical thinking, consolidating new learning, working memory, abstract thinking, problem-solving and decision making. Lack of sleep during this reconstruction phase may impede the development of the prefrontal cortex.”
With the increased complexity of information presented to students in Middle and Senior Years, greater demand is placed on this prefrontal cortex of the brain. It simply cannot cope with sleep deprivation.
Teachers know instantly if a child hasn’t slept well the night before, it is obvious in everything the child does in class. It may not be as obvious to a parent before school because the activities undertaken then are typically more automated and rely less on this section of the brain.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Mental Health
A lack of sleep makes it difficult for our children to demonstrate the level of resilience they need on a day to day basis. Minor issues and challenges can become major when kids are fatigued.
On-going sleep deprivation has a big impact on growing brains. Some of the effects, as outlined by the Victorian Health Department include:
· Lack of enthusiasm
· Moodiness and aggression
Every thirty minutes of extra sleep that a child gets makes a difference in these areas.
How Much Sleep Do Adolescents Need?
The average tween or teen needs at least 9 1/4 hours of sleep. Unfortunately, the average Australian teen only gets 7 – 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night. That means that their sleep debt is growing daily.
Unfortunately, sometimes adolescents aren’t the best judges of what is good for them, so it’s our job to be setting consistent bedtimes and enforcing them.
Top Tips For Making Sure Your Child Has Enough Sleep
1. Have set bedtimes that are enforced. Neurologists recommend this for everyone, not just teens. Be open about this routine with other parents. It is easier for all parents if there is a shared community understanding that sleep is important.
2. Shut down devices at least an hour before bed. Devices need to be stored in family space, not bedrooms so that kids aren’t tempted to check them during the night.
3. Stop homework, computer games, loud music or any other activity that heightens brain stimulation an hour before sleep.
4. Establish a winding down ritual for your child. It might be showering immediately before bed, reading or having quiet talk time with you. It could take about four weeks to have real effects, but it will be worthwhile.
5. Make sure bedrooms are quiet and dark.
6. No caffeinated food or drinks before bed, including coffee, tea, cola drinks and chocolate.
7. If necessary, you may like to explore meditation programs. Mindfulness works. There are lots available and specifically aimed at teenagers.
8. If all else fails, seek medical advice. Sleep is that important
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Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single-sex and co-ed. Currently, she is a writer, speaker and consultant in Western Australia.