Lack of sleep among teenagers could be causing serious problems for their health and academic progression. But are schools part of their insomnia problems?
Sleep problems among teenagers commonly arise due to physical, mental and social changes taking place in their life. The pressures of homework, exams, relationships with friends, social activities, part-time jobs and a host of fluctuating emotions can make it difficult for your teenager to relax at night.
In addition to this, their natural sleeping cycle may be out of balance, making it harder for them to fall to sleep at night and wake up early in the morning.
But quality sleep is essential for a teenager’s growth and development.
There’s an increasing body of evidence showing the damaging effect on children and young adults who get less sleep than they need – from weight gain to depression, from poor performance and concentration to reduced creative ability and lower immunity to diseases – at a time when the pressures of the modern world are definitely leading to decreased sleep times.
The proliferation of mobile phones and laptop computers means teenagers feel like they need to be in touch all the time, but they also need to understand that ‘switching off’ and indulging in quiet time is really important and actually quite normal. Parents can help by limiting computer time and encouraging an electronic-free bed environment.
At the moment, there is no legal requirement to include anything about sleep on the school timetable. The word ‘sleep’ does not even appear in official national curriculum guidelines. The government’s Change 4 Life programme does not mention sleep, either, let alone it getting taught in school.
This lack of education about sleep and the factors critical to achieving the necessary quantity and quality must be addressed in schools as well as the home if today’s youngsters are to take the subject seriously.
In the month leading up to exams, the number of teenagers who have just five to six hours sleep a night doubles from 10% to 20%.
Getting enough sleep allows teenagers to react more quickly to situations, have a more developed memory, learn more effectively and solve problems. Teenagers don’t always understand the importance of sleep which is why it is particularly important for parents to be aware that good sleep has a link to good health and educational benefits.
Teenagers cannot meet their full potential when they are sleep deprived. And attainment in school can be impaired if the correct amount if sleep is not gained. Our recent research found that as teens head into the 2015 exam season they are skimping on vital sleep as they cram in up to 14-plus hours of exam revision each week.
The survey found that a good night’s sleep is the first thing to suffer. In the month leading up to exams, the number of teenagers who have just five to six hours sleep a night doubles from 10% to 20%. This is a worryingly high number of teenagers who are not getting as much sleep as they need to function and perform at their best in the build up to exams. Sacrificing sleep is actually more detrimental to mental alertness that cramming in more revision.
How much sleep we get impacts on how we perform. A good night’s sleep triggers changes in the brain that helps to improve memory, meaning you’ll be much better able to remember what you learnt the day before.
And with some 83% of teenagers admitting their sleep is affected by worry and stress over exams, it’s important to teach them the importance of a good night’s sleep and the factors – such as regular bedtimes and a good bed – that can affect it.
It’s time to change the way we look at sleep.
Lisa Artis is a member of The Sleep Council, a group giving advice on health sleep habits and funded by the National Bed Association – the trade association for bed manufacturers.