Sleep is key to health and wellbeing. We all know how good it feels waking up after a great night’s rest.
People often have quite different sleep habits and it can be baffling if others have very different patterns. There are biological factors as well as learned habits which affects how we sleep.
Learning good sleeping habits while young can be a skill for life.
Our body’s natural rhythms; sleeping patterns, digestive systems (affecting when you get hungry) and hormone releases throughout a 24 hour period is known as its circadian rhythm.
Basically it’s a biological time keeping mechanism for the body.
Changes to the rhythm
Our circadian rhythm is set by things like habit, when we normally go to bed and wake up, our usual eating patterns etc. but also by nature, in particular daylight. This is one reason why it’s so much harder to get out of bed in winter.
Different ages, different needs
It’s important to aim for regular sleeping patterns as this affects how our body functions overall, which is why things like jet-lag make us feel so bad. However, it’s worth noting our circadian rhythms change over the course of a lifetime.
- Children – do need more sleep than adults. Babies spend most of the time sleeping and smaller children need naps during the day, while all children need about 10 – 12 hours sleep a night.
- Teenagers – need an average of about eight and a half hours, but often more than this and research suggests that many teens don’t get enough quality sleep.
- Adults – require anything from about seven and a half to nine hours, but younger people usually need a lot more.
During adolescence the circadian rhythm is temporarily re-set, so that people fall asleep later and wake up later. As teenage years usually coincide with a busy and highly pressurised time in life this often results in lack of sleep.
Lack of sleep
While a healthy sleeping routine is said to increase energy levels and improve concentration and memory, not getting enough sleep can have a significant effect including:
- concentration difficulties
- poor decision making
- lack of enthusiasm
- moodiness and aggression
- reduced academic and sporting performance
- drifting off in class/lectures
- risk-taking behaviour
Sleeping disorders can arise from a number of causes and there are different ways to deal with them.
Sleep and mental health
Sleep problems can also be a sign of mental health problems.
If you’re concerned about your son/daughter’s sleeping patterns and its impact on their mental health, talk to them about your concerns. Maybe also consider seeking professional help from your GP.
How can I improve my son or daughter’s sleeping patterns?
You can promote better sleep by looking at your son or daughter’s daytime behaviour. In particular, young people need to eat regular, healthy meals, enjoy positive social relationships and get regular physical activity.
Try not to argue about bedtimes, discuss the issue with them instead.
A few tips to getting better sleep:
- Routine – encourage your son/daughter to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This helps the body clock and makes sleep more natural. Keep wake-up times on school days and weekends to within two hours of each other.
- Avoid naps – as they can make it more difficult to sleep at night.
- Evening meal – make sure your son/daughter has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before going to bed can interfere with sleep.
- Limit bed to sleeping – ensure they don’t study, watch TV or eat in bed.
- Technology – should be switched off an hour before bedtime. TVs, laptops, iPads and mobile phones emit a bright light which stimulates the brain. Switching off phones can be particularly hard for young people, but late-night calls and text messages can severely disrupt sleeping patterns. For young teenagers you could introduce a ‘handover’ time for phones.
- Avoid stimulants – your son/daughter should avoid having caffeine, (coffee, tea, chocolate, cola) or cigarettes before bed. Encourage wind-down activities such as reading and listening to music.
- Physical activity – throughout the day has been shown to increase the total sleep time of young people. Activity late at night, however, can act as a stimulant and make it harder to get to sleep.
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