The back-to-school transition can prove challenging for many children and teenagers after a long holiday or school break. It’s important at these times (as well as generally), that children appropriately adjust to the school schedule to ensure they’re not overtired, cranky, or simply finding it difficult to engage in academic or everyday activities.
Sleep-deprived teenagers are more likely to achieve poorly in school, fall asleep during class or be consistently late for or even absent from school. Teens who do not enjoy sufficient sleep are also more likely to underperform in sports activities due to decreased motivation and slower reaction times.
Fortunately, teens and their families can take key steps to increase both the quantity and quality of their sleep:
- Encourage daytime exercise and activity
Have you noticed that most little children who run around endlessly generally tend to fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly? That’s because physical activity helps to greatly improve mood, ease stress and promote good, sound sleeping patterns.
It’s a good idea to encourage your teen’s ‘inner-toddler’ by ensuring they achieve at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. Urge them not to work out or physically exert themselves too close to bedtime, however, because exercise can wake us up before it slows us down to sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and stimulants near bedtime
We generally associate caffeine with coffee and tea but, of course, it’s in energy drinks, carbonated soft drinks, and more. It’s a stimulant, which means it can help keep teenagers awake and alert. Whilst that’s something teenagers might want for other reasons, at night, it can leave them tossing and turning in bed.
To help your teenager sleep, encourage them to consume limited caffeine during the day, and switch to decaf or caffeine-free beverages at night. A good decaffeinated hot drink or glass of milk can provide a soothing alternative.
- Say ‘night, ‘night to screens and electronics
Texting, social media and the Internet are essentially the enemies of a good night’s sleep. Not only do texting, gaming and social media activities keep us awake and alert. If we do fall asleep, receiving texts and notifications can awaken us.
It’s a good idea to make your adolescent’s bedroom a tech-free, screen-free zone. The light from electronic devices tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daytime, so it’s advisable to switch devices off at least an hour before bedtime and leave them outside the bedroom where they can’t be distracting. Some devices also have a “night shift” setting where screens emit less blue light in the evening hours, which might help.
- Put an end to worry
It may seem easier said than done, but you can help to encourage your teen to relax their mind before bed and to keep a pen and paper nearby to write down any assignments or tasks or to be addressed in the morning.
Help them to notice when they are worrying and to shift their focus to a calming, distracting activity or ritual such as deep breathing, stretching, body scanning or visualising calming imagery.
- Keep to a healthy sleep routine
Going to bed at the same time every night helps the body expect sleep. Creating a set bedtime routine can enhance this relaxation effect for adolescents. After puberty, a teen’s internal clock generally shifts about 2 hours. Whilst this means they tend to go to sleep later, it also means they will naturally want to sleep 2 hours later the following day.
Changes to teens’ bodies and brains, including melatonin production, can shift their natural circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Encourage your teenager to unwind at night by reading a book, listening to music or meditating, spending time with a pet, writing in a journal or engaging in anything that relaxes them and promotes a calm, soothing environment.
- Expect a good night’s sleep.
Anxiety and stress can trigger insomnia, so the more your child agonises about not sleeping, the more likely they are likely to lie awake staring at the ceiling. Instead of worrying that they won’t sleep, remind them to repeat positive statements such as “tonight, I will sleep well” several times throughout the day.
It can also help to practice breathing exercises or gentle yoga poses before bed. The bedroom is for sleeping. If you can, avoid doing stressful activities in bed or your bedroom. This keeps the stress of daily activities out of your sleeping space.
- Create optimal sleeping conditions.
Most of us sleep better in cool, quiet and dark environments. If your teen needs them, consider curtains, window blinds or eye masks that will help keep their bedroom sufficiently dark, and ear plugs or “white noise” to help address any sound issues. The correct bed and mattress are also of great importance for a comfortable night’s sleep.
Taking a cool shower can also work as a trigger for sleep, but it doesn’t last long if the bedroom is too warm. Devices such as ceiling, desk or standing fans are a good source of both “white noise” and provide a cool and comfortable environment.
- Make Light of it
We know that most types of light at night are bad for sleep, but in the morning light can be a great aid in wakefulness. Recent studies have revealed that teenagers camping out without electronic devices rapidly reset their body clock by going outdoors and drenching their eyes in the morning sunlight.
- Avoid oversleeping on weekends.
Although catching up on lost sleep on the weekends can be helpful, sleeping until midday on Sunday might make it harder for your teenager to get back into a school schedule that night.
Researchers have proven that varying sleep schedules on the weekend (also known as “social jetlag”) can worsen sleep and not restore sleep deficits.
- Enlist your teen’s support
Whilst it’s important to recognize when your teenager is not getting enough rest, Any best-laid plans are doomed to fail if your child or teenager is not on board. Discuss any noticeable sleep-related concerns with your child in terms they easily understand.
As you set out to help ensure your child gets the rest so essential for their physical and mental growth, it will be important to manage their – and your – expectations about what they can and can’t accomplish in a single day.