The summer holidays are here and while young people may rejoice at not having to get out of bed for school, The Sleep Charity is urging parents to not let their teens sleep patterns slide too much otherwise come September, they are in for a shock!
Ask any teenager what they love about summer and apart from not going to school, the majority will say they love not having to set an alarm for school, being able to wake up naturally and catching up on some well-deserved kip.
And while summer slumber is normal, too little structure can also be a problem. Lisa Artis, Deputy CEO at The Sleep Charity, looks at how routines can get lost over the summer holidays and why keeping a consistent sleep pattern is key.
Many parents will notice that when their child hits adolescence their sleep patterns change. You may find yourself calling them ‘lazy’, seemingly unwilling to get up in the morning, but it’s actually not their fault.
We all have an internal body clock that runs roughly on a 24-hour cycle, called the circadian rhythm. The environment (sunrise and sunset) regulates our clock so that we go to sleep and wake up on the same schedule. This helps us to feel sleepy at bedtime and helps us get up in the morning. Our own environmental cues also play a part.
When adolescence hits, changes happen in your child’s brain. It develops, and hormones are changing. They are biologically more likely to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin, later at night meaning they don’t feel sleepy until the early hours.
For a period of time, this shifts their natural circadian rhythm making it out of sync. This means they may struggle with falling asleep at an appropriate hour, need lengthy lie-ins at the weekend and find it harder to wake up in the morning.
So when the school holidays arrive, it can be tempting to allow your teen to have some freedom over their sleep schedule. However, be mindful that not all kids make good choices when it comes to their sleep.
Young people need sleep – they need it for growth, development, learning and emotional health – and they tend to need around 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
During term time, many teens are probably not getting the sleep they need. However, during the holidays, letting them sleep until midday will only push their circadian rhythm out of sync completely. Their sleep drive (ie. their need/pressure to sleep) will not occur until later at night meaning they will want to go to bed even later. The knock-on effect is that they then sleep in the following morning. And the cycle continues resulting in a disruptive sleep routine.
Setting a realistic bedtime and encouraging good sleep habits will help your teenager to get more sleep – not only in term time but also during the holidays too.
Consider in the holidays having a regular bedtime that suits them (and you!) and isn’t 2am. Also agreeing on a set wake-up time – it doesn’t need to be 7am nor does it need to be midday, why not compromise on 9.30am for instance? If they get up late and spend too much time in bed, then their natural appetite for sleep will weaken, leaving them wide awake at night-time.
Teens might often find themselves more hungry in the evening too as they grow and develop. With this in mind, encourage them to swap crisps and chocolate for healthier alternatives. It’s also wise to get them to limit caffeine in the evening too – coffee, tea, coke and energy drinks – as we know caffeine can have an impact on being able to fall asleep.
And we know young people are glued to their devices and have huge FOMO (fear of missing out) but try to put a limit on screen time before bed (even if it’s just 30 minutes!) and get them to do something else that calms the brain and body for sleep.
Keep young people active too. Fresh air and exercise are important for giving us energy and really do help our sleep.
Make sure their environment is right for sleep too. They need a bedroom that is cool, quiet and dark. Ensure their bed is still fit for purpose – i.e., their growing limbs – and they have comfortable bedding. In fact, the summer holidays are a perfect time to go new bed shopping!