Posted: 12 February 2020

How to sleep better: top tips for young people

How do you feel when you haven't had enough sleep? Maybe a bit grumpy, unable to concentrate, or like you have 'brain fog'.

Now imagine feeling like that when you're studying for your GCSEs, and it's clear that getting enough sleep is really important for young people. But it can be a struggle, so we spoke to Charlotte, an occupational therapist from our drop-in emotional well-being service Beam, to find out why sleep affects young people's well-being and get her top tips for a better night's sleep.

The battle for balance

Sleep is a primary activity of the brain and is essential to healthy development in children and young people. It’s nature's way of giving balance to the whole human system and improves function in every way. Sleep is absolutely vital to overall health and well-being.

But children and young people are not particularly good at recognising when they need to sleep and will usually push for a later bedtime if they can. We face a difficult battle in the current climate of smartphones, tablets and other electrical devices.

Once upon a time when we got home from school there was no real connection with the outside world or other peers but now connection to others is greater than ever, and therefore the peer pressure is ever more pressing. Young people can see when their peers are awake and compare bedtimes with others.

But it's really important that parents and carers regulate and enforce some pro-sleep boundaries into everyday life. As the old adage goes, ‘you have to be cruel to be kind’ to children and young people, as they will not regulate their own sleep/wake cycle as effectively if left to their own devices (no pun intended).

Why sleep is important

In children aged 6 to 13 it's recommended by NHS England that they have 9-11 hours of sleep a night. Evidence suggests that if they don’t have this amount of sleep then their mood, concentration and behaviours will be negatively affected.

There can also be other adverse effects on the body in terms of temperature control, insulin production and cell maintenance.

School-aged children and students in particular should always aim for optimum sleep as, without this, the brain will struggle to maintain effective focus within a classroom setting. A lack of sleep can cause irritability and poor concentration which can make classroom learning difficult for everyone.

Top tips for getting a better night's sleep

  • Keep fixed morning routines, try not to allow too late a lie-in at weekends. We know that regular sleep/wake cycles help maintain structure
  • Avoid napping in the day
  • Exercise more in the day as this promotes cardiovascular health and creates dopamine in the brain which aid sleep later in the day
  • Take warm baths at night
  • Do gentle stretches before bed
  • Read a book before sleeping
  • Write a ‘to do’ list before bed
  • Avoid smartphone use up to one hour before bed
  • Make the bedroom a relaxing place to be - avoid having a TV in the bedroom or other devices which emit blue light
  • Set the temperature to 18-24 degrees

If you have maintained a regular structured routine for a few weeks and followed the various age-appropriate tips and still experience difficulties with your child or young person, ask them to keep a sleep diary and visit your GP for further support and guidance.

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