Did I put the bins out? What’s that noise outside? Should I make any changes to my fantasy premier league team? What about dinner tomorrow night? Am I truly happy?
It’s so difficult to settle down to a good night’s sleep these days, there’s so much going on to worry or think about. When we finally get the chance for some much-needed shuteye, our brain seems to keep whirring along at a tremendous speed with all the constant, nagging worries that inflict our daily life.
Is it the same for the tweens in our life. According to the NHS guidelines, children between ten and 12 years old should be getting between nine hours 45 minutes and nine hours 15 minutes a night. It’s worth bearing in mind at this point that the average age of puberty for girls is between 10 to 12 and boys 12 to 16 and it is during puberty that their natural sleep patterns, their circadian rhythms, may begin to shift.
Healthy sleep habits
A decent sleep is just as crucial a part of our healthy daily routine as well-chosen eating or drinking habits, after all, it takes up about one third of our lives. Without a quality bout of slumber we can’t form or maintain the pathways in our brains that allow learning and create new memories. It also becomes harder to concentrate and react.
All this is relevant because, as research from UK and US university studies shows, we are now having two hours less sleep a night than in the 1960s. Furthermore, Colorado University findings stated that deprived sleep is linked to poor heart health. The University’s Dr Sara Gottfried commented: “Our lives are more hectic than ever, we binge-watch TV, tablets and phones emit sleep-disrupting blue light all evening.” The blue light that’s emitted from digital screens suppresses the body’s sleep hormone, melatonin, which should be in full flow, helping us zone out and catch our zzzs.
Banishing the blue-light
Well we all know what would happen if we left teens to their own “devices”, so it’s paramount that we do what we can to proactively help.
According to a BBC survey, 57% of the UK’s children are sleeping with their mobile phones by their bed. The same survey says that 42% of children keep their phones with them at all times and never turn them off. Therefore, a time limit on screen time with an emphasis on no access to technology via tablets, monitors or mobile phones in the bedroom is crucial.
This is a hard one (don’t I know it) and will doubtless cause all sorts of unnecessary angst-ridden protestations, but why not start small, say 15 to 20 minutes before
bedtime for the first week, before building up to 60 to 90 minutes. You could even set up a designated area to store all electrical devices like a family dock-in station.
Better still, change the screen settings to night-time mode. This helps reduce screen glare by changing the blue wavelength light to amber. Other improvements include lowering the brightness on screens, switching to airplane mode and turning off notifications, which stops our little bedroom hermits from endlessly “checking in” to the social media matrix.
The routine of a structured amount of time for sleep and a custom of going upstairs to bed at the same time every night is also a step in the right direction. If children don’t get enough sleep it could be affecting their school work as well as their home life. Mood, behaviour, emotional health and weight are all factors here.
Here are some other ideas to consider:
Bedroom set up
Think about a colour scheme in the bedroom that’s a soothing and calm haven creation rather than a bright, bold brainache.
Make sure there’s a quality mattress, we all remember the fairy tale about The Princess and the Pea right?
Get appropriate pillows, sheets and duvets; for those who really struggle with sleeping or insomnia a weighted blanket might be worth trying
Make the bedroom as dark as feasible without scaring loved ones half to death in the process. Blackout blinds are a brilliant idea if there’s lots of glare from lights outside, but simple things like covering standby lights can work too.
For those tweens who really struggle with light or noise, maybe an eye mask or earplugs would help.
Set up a bedtime routine that concentrates on winding down; and try to keep that as much as possible.
Go for showers or baths, teeth brushing and comfortable nightwear.
Wind-down before bed: Try colouring in, a shared diary, mindfulness, yoga or breathing techniques beforehand and don’t forget good old-fashioned counting sheep.
What about food? Bananas produce serotonin, which can be sleep inducing, Other foods to try include almonds and cherries. Chicken, turkey and milk contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that creates niacin.
Make sure they don’t eat too late however. Cut back on the stimulation of energy drinks, chocolate and soft drinks.
If you've tried all of the above, established a consistent bedtime routine and made adjustments to fit your child's individual needs and they are still consistently having difficulties getting to sleep or staying asleep, i.e. insomnia, it might be worth talking to your GP in case there is an underlying sleep disorder.
Chris Skeat; freelance writer; father of two boys; working in education