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Healthy Habits

Alison MacDonald —

Sleep and learning.

This month the focus is on sleep and why getting enough good quality sleep is so important for everyone. It's particularly important when it comes to adolescents, growth and learning.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is vital for children’s and adolescents’ well-being. Sleep supports the healthy development of the body and mind. Evidence shows that children and adolescents who do not get enough sleep have more trouble learning. They are less attentive and motivated, have poor problem solving, more confusion, increased irritability, reduced memory, impaired communication, slower processing of information, poorer judgement, diminished reaction times and more indifference. Lack of sleep can also lead to behaviour and mood issues, impacting negatively on relationships, empathy and leading to mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depressed mood. 

How much sleep do adolescents need?

As with adults, every teenager is different in terms of how much sleep they need. Teenagers aged 13-17 years should ideally be sleeping for 8-10 hours.

What are some signs that your child or adolescent isn't getting enough sleep

  • Depressed mood and irritability 
  • Hyperactivity at school
  • Reduced academic performance
  • Changes to communicating/social interacting at home and/or school
  • Falling asleep during the day
  • Difficulties waking up for school and sleeping in late on weekends

Sleep Hygiene for teens: ideas to try

Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Teens should be going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day, including non-school nights. Try to keep the difference in sleep and wake times within one hour. Be consistent on weekends. Although teens can stay up a little longer, they should not sleep in to catch up on the sleep they missed during the week. It will make it harder to get back on track for their regular schedule.

Create a sleep-friendly physical environment. The bedroom should be comfortable, cool, quiet, and dark. The bed should only be used for sleeping. Try not to do homework, read a book, or listen to music in bed.

Keep a consistent bedtime routine. Try to “wind down” by doing fewer stimulating activities such as reading or listening to calm music. Do not use this time to watch television, cram in more studying, use the computer, talk on the phone, or exercise. Please leave phones switched off or even out of the bedroom.

Here are some additional important tips: 

Try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. It may help you fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply. 

Take a break and go outside for some time every day, especially in the morning. Getting sun exposure helps your body keep its internal clock on track. 

Eat meals regularly, and avoid going to bed on an empty stomach. However, do not eat a full meal an hour before bed, and try to opt for a light snack instead. 

Avoid consuming caffeine (i.e. soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks or chocolate) in the late afternoon or evening.  

Alcohol is not only bad for your overall health, but it also disrupts sleep. You may have night awakenings. 

Smoking also disrupts sleep. It is best for your health not to smoke at all, but try to not smoke an hour before bed.