You may have noticed that your alertness levels go up and down throughout the day, but have your ever wondered why? Your sleep-wake cycle is regulated by two body systems that balance each other: sleep-wake homeostasis and the circadian rhythm better known as the “body clock”.
Sleep-wake homeostasis, without getting into the complicated science, is an internal timer that tells your body that you have built up a need for sleep and it’s time to go to bed. It also regulates the hours slept ensuring you have made up for the hours you were awake.
The ‘body clock’ regulates your alertness levels, and these can rise and dip throughout the day. In adults the dips generally occur between 2-4am and 1-3pm (although this will depend on whether you are a morning or evening person). The level of ‘sleepiness’ we experience during these dips is dependent on whether we’ve had a good night’s sleep or not. It’s also useful to know that this cycle can make you feel more alert at certain times of the day even if you’ve been awake for hours.
During adolescence the body clock changes meaning that teenagers often feel more alert late at night. The average teen needs a little over 9 hours (a suggested minimum of 8 ½ hours) of sleep, but due to these changes it can be difficult to go to sleep before 11pm. As a consequence, many teens are in fact sleep deprived. Also compared with adults, they experience slightly staggered dips between 2-7am and 2-5pm, but if they are sleep deprived the morning dip could last until 9 or even 10am. This could explain why it so difficult for them to wake up in the morning, as well as their endearing morning moodiness.
Back to School: What can your teen do to encourage better sleep before school starts?
Explain the Benefits of Sleep
Talk to your teen and ensure there are no troubles keeping them up at night. Discuss the benefits of a good night’s sleep: such as enhanced memory, performance and creativity. Explain that tired people are more prone to stress, and that this can bring with it a whole host of other problems. For example stress can lead to suppressed immunity, so sleep is a great way to stave off a cold!
Being active is not only great for general health but it encourages a better night’s sleep. Signing up to school sports teams such as football and netball is a great way to get 60 minutes of exercise into the day.
The Right Environment
Keep the room cool and as dark as possible. Since we are all sensitive to changes in lighting levels it’s useful to buy blackout blinds or heavy curtains. It is also important to note that standing in a brightly lit bathroom brushing your teeth before bed can actually serve to wake us up slightly.
Stop the Bedtime Binge
Eating/snacking before bedtime is not a good idea, nor is going to bed on an empty stomach as both disrupt sleep.
Encourage your teen to start their own night time ritual (do the same things in the same order an hour or so before bed). This could mean having a bath, listening to relaxing music, then reading a book. Their rituals should not involve bright screens, which leads on to the next point…
Electronics raise our awareness. This means no laptops, TVs, game consoles or phones. If your teen is texting, emailing, and using social media these are not only addictive but they arouse emotions which could keep them up at night.
Finally, let your teen know that they are pre-disposed to go to bed late and wake up late, but don’t let them use this as an excuse. Encourage them to be more aware of themselves and take better responsibility over their sleep routine.