Exploring the relationship between your teenager and sleep

Think back to life with your new-born baby, one of the most common questions is “are you getting much sleep?”

The competitive Mums would brag that their perfect bundle is sleeping through the night at just a few weeks old whilst perhaps you found yourself with a nocturnal little one!

Sleep is definitely an obsessive subject for new parents and it’s a subject that rears its head again during the teen years. Of course, it’s different now, we don’t rock our darlings to sleep or place them carefully in their cot with soft music playing. We are more likely to be dragging our sleepy teens out of bed in the morning or despairing at the failed attempts to get them to switch their phones off and actually settle in for a peaceful slumber.

Is my teenager lazy?

Please, don’t despair! Sleep patterns change during the pre-teen and teenage years and this blog is going to explore some of the reasons why and give you some understanding of the role that sleep plays in your teenagers’ development as well as some helpful tools to encourage good sleep patterns for your teenager.

It is a fact that teens have a different sleep cycle to adults and therefore it’s right that their sleep habits don’t mimic our own. A teenager who likes to sleep away the entire morning at the weekends or who needs to be dragged out of bed on a school day is not lazy – it’s really important to me that parents realise this.

The role of Melatonin

Before we move onto some practical tips to encourage good sleep habits, let’s take a look at Melatonin.

Melatonin plays a big part in the sleep patterns of our young people. Melatonin is a hormone primarily released by the pineal gland that regulates the sleep–wake cycle. It is released when it gets dark and helps us to feel sleepy (with the clocks just going back you may have noticed you feel tired at ‘tea time’….that’s the Melatonin at work!)

In our teenagers, Melatonin is released on average two hours later when compared to adults. We may be ready for bed at 1030pm whilst our teens seem to be wide awake and this is due to their Melatonin levels – they aren’t just being defiant and refusing to go to sleep to be difficult.

Also, Melatonin stays in a teenagers’ system for longer,  that’s why they are often sleepy and groggy in the morning. Research has shown that if our teens could start school or college later in the day it would have a really positive impact on memory and learning.

It is worth noting that Melatonin production can be interrupted by the blue light emitted by phones, tablets and computers which is why a period of screen free time before bed is important.

Why is sleep important?       

Sleep is vital for all human beings. It supports our immune systems, helps us to repair and recover both physically and emotionally. Sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on our minds and bodies and especially in the teenage years when there is rapid physical and emotional change – sleep should be prioritised.

A teenager’s brain is working hard – from school-work to friendships, relationships, body image and of course this year the immense changes that Covid-19 has forced on to us all. Good quality sleep is really important  to help to process everything that is going on in our teen’s lives.  Sleep allows us to empty our “stress bucket” and to begin a new day with room to learn, to grow and to take on new challenges – this is especially important in teenagers who are absorbing immense amounts of information every day. Quality REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is also crucial for synaptic pruning, think of your teen’s brain as an overgrown garden, less sleep will see this garden get out of control but quality sleep is a process of cutting old branches away and allowing room for new growth.

How to encourage good sleep patterns in your teenager?

The National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine agree that teens need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night. Getting this recommended amount helps them maintain their physical health, emotional well-being and learning at school or other educational settings.

I totally appreciate that as a Mum of teens it can be hard to introduce new things into our teenager’s lives but there are things that we can do to help them wind their minds down.

First and foremost, talk to your teenager – opening up the channels of communication is crucial, I find that chats in the car or when out walking works really well, rather than sitting down ‘face to face’ when they may feel confronted.

Find out what they are willing to try – teen yoga has been hugely popular in recent times and is really beneficial in helping teens to wind down as are guided relaxations and meditations. Now, as a Mum of two boys I know that some teens will flat out refuse to try some of these techniques which require engagement and commitment – this is where essential oils can come in.

Essential oils can affect a chemical change in the brain in as little as 20 seconds – they can be extremely powerful in creating a calm environment for our teens without them having to engage too much.  Lavender and Wild Orange are both excellent choices that I use all of the time with my own children and the teenagers I work with. A few drops on pillows, a little oil rubbed on wrists before bed or just inhaling the scent can ‘cut through the noise’ and encourage calm and therefore sleep. Finding the right essential oil for your teen can take some time, and a bit of trial and error. I can help with this process and offer samples and advice to you.

Finally, please remember, “comparison is the thief of joy.” What works for one family might not work for yours – go back to the new-borns sleeping through the night – this competitive and comparative parenting is destructive so don’t give yourself a hard time.

My 5 day self-paced online programme “Tools for Teens – Understanding the Teenage Brain” teaches more about teenage sleep and how to encourage appropriate sleep patterns. The next one will be running from the 12th – 16th July and you can find out more information and book by clicking here.

Learn more by watching this video:

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