Getting your son into healthy sleep habits
Every school day, I check in with the teenage boys in my class and ask them how they are. A staggering number regularly respond with “I’m tired”.
It’s not surprising. High-school-aged kids have busy lives and their ‘chill out’ time is often saturated with technology-based distractions such as social media and gaming.
Something’s got to give. And sleep is one of the first things to get the flick. Many teenage boys are either not able to fall asleep when they want to sleep, or they’re simply not getting enough sleep.
Biologically, teenagers are at a disadvantage from the get go. Teenagers’ melatonin (the sleep hormone) is released 1 to 2 hours later than in adults, which means they don’t feel sleepy until later at night.
However, most adolescent boys have social obligations such as school or weekend sports and activities, which means they have to get up early, no matter what time their body tells them it’s time to go to bed.
Getting enough sleep isn’t just vital for your son’s physical health or academic performance either. A recent Columbia University study found that teenagers who got to sleep after midnight had a 24% higher risk of depression than those in bed before 10pm. Those with later bedtimes were also 20% more likely to have suicidal thoughts.
So what can you do to help ensure your teenage son is getting enough sleep?
- Teach your son about good ‘sleep hygiene’
- avoid stimulants such as caffeine at night
- avoid strenuous exercise in the 2 hours before bedtime
- keep light levels low just before bed
- keep mobile phones and tablets out of the bedroom where possible (the screen light and apps will keep him alert)
- engage in a relaxing activity before bed such as listening to music, having a shower or reading a book
- keep bedrooms at a consistent temperature – around 19 degrees is optimum
- get a good dose of sunshine (or natural daylight at least) in the mornings.
- Create sleep ‘rituals’ that give him back control
- allow your son to stay up until he is tired (don’t make him go to bed when he’s not)
- if he can’t fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes, let him get back up again (and encourage him to do something relaxing – no devices)
- don’t let your son nap during the day
- make sure he sets his alarm for the same time every morning (and keep an eye on how many times he’s hitting snooze).
- Give him tools to cope with worry, anxiety and daily stress
- At the end of each day, check in with your son and see if there’s anything you can help him with, or anything he would like to share. A problem shared is a problem halved.
- If he doesn’t want to talk about it with you, encourage him to reach out to his closest mate, or to write a list of the things he needs to get done.
- Swap negative for positive. If boys can’t fall asleep they often start worrying about the fact they can’t fall asleep, and a vicious cycle begins. Encourage your son to replace unhelpful negative thoughts with more positive or realistic thoughts. For example: “I can get by with less sleep. I am just going to lie here and rest.” Taking the fear or alarm out of your son’s thoughts about sleep will help him relax.
Helping your son regulate his emotions about how to deal with stress will be a skill he can use throughout his life. Read more about how to help your son deal with stress here.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2017). Cognitive behavioural therapy. Available at http://www.sleepeducation.org/treatment-therapy/cognitive-behavioral-therapy [Verified 24 August 2017]
Eskenazi, K. (2017). More sleep may reduce depression in teenagers. Available at http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/publications/press_releases/sleep_depression.html [Verified 29 August 2017].
Harvard Medical School (2007). 12 simple tips to help improve your sleep. Available at http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips [Verified 24 August 2017].
State Government of Victoria (2017). Sleep hygiene. Available at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sleep-hygiene [Verified 24 August 2017].
Meg Adem is a science and psychology teacher, writer and athletics coach at Brighton Grammar, an all-boys school in Melbourne. This article is about Wellbeing
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