Jamie constantly complains about wanting to sleep, moans about being woken up, then moans about having to get out of bed. And to cap it all moans about having to go to bed!
‘For goodness sake…pleasssse give me a break, ‘ flashes through my ageing Nan brain and probably every sleep deprived parent.
It has always been thus. I was once that moany teen complaining about being dragged out of bed at 9am on a Sunday. My Dad, a 6am factory worker, had been in fear of a beating if he had stayed in bed in his teen years. When he set the 9am deadline for my lie-in he thought he was a ‘New Man’ . I was grudgingly grateful.
I looked into the matter of teen sleep three generations later and this is what I found.
Teen brains change a lot
Brains keep growing and changing throughout our lives. No jokes about mine please
The teen years are especially busy with brain change. How long the changes take depends on the individual but we all go through them.
Neuroscientists [brain doctors] say that these physical changes to the brain lead to important wider changes through teenage years.
During his brain change time Jamie will have
- Become more self-aware and self-reflective – GOOD, have
- Better selective attention, decision-making – GOOD
- The ability to think more strategically – GOOD
- Improve his ability to consider and include the views of others – GOOD
BUT at the same time he will
- Find understanding other people’s thinking , making sense of social and emotional stuff and negotiating complex inter-personal decisions – CHALLENGING,and
- Difficulty controlling impulses, making judgments and long range planning – CHALLENGING
How does this brain change affect sleep?
Sleep is a related part of the puzzle of what it is to be a teenager.
Teen brains are not running on the same ‘circadian rhythm’ as adults. Oddly 9-10 year olds sleep rhythm is closer to an adult but it all goes squiffy a few years later.
The teen brain is affected by a hormone – melatonin – which changes its signals triggering the desire to sleep later in the evening. The teen circadian rhythm has changed.
At the same time Jamie needs about 9.5 hrs sleep a night, recommended by NHS ( see the photo attached to the blog). But he won’t feel like sleep until around 11pm. Given a school day can require waking as early as 5.30-6am there is a problem.
Lack of sleep is a problem to learning
A school day is simply not designed for its ‘customers’, the students. The school day timings work for teachers, caretakers, parents, employers but not 12-19 year olds.
As it is the adults who hold the strings on this, all efforts to change the start time of secondary schools have failed. It is much easier to stick to the old ‘ they’re just lazy’ belief. It’s wrong but hey ho we adults are in control. But we may be creating much more serious problems too.
The Sleep Foundation lists the problems older teens who lack sleep can suffer in their July 2020 paper
- Emotional and behavioural problems such as irritability, depression, poor impulse control and violence;
- Health complaints;
- Tobacco and alcohol use;
- Impaired cognitive function (brain power) and decision-making; and
- lower overall performance in everything from academics to athletics
Are we helping our children to do their best if we keep forcing them out of bed?
With the best of intentions we may be driving our teens towards another problem. Teens can learn to rely on high caffeine drinks to stay awake …energy drinks, Coke, coffee…then by the evening they are so wired up their ability to respond to the message of their rhythm that sleep is needed may not get through. It gets worse and worse for some.
Nicola Morgan in ‘Blame my Brain’ https://bit.ly/3jWEV7h refers to a study where pupils who slept longer got better school grades. Isn’t that what all parents and schools want? It is certainly what students are working for.
Jamie is not allowed screens in his bedroom. If he was it might be a whole lot worse. But that battle is the matter for another blog!
What more can we parents and grandparents do to support the sleep of teens when their brains are in redesign mode?
If you don’t live near the school
- Offer a fast means of transport to get them to the gate on time eg a bike– I know that’s a townie idea or school bus perhaps.
- Compromise on bedtime and getting up time as far as possible
- Talk to the school parents association to see if other parents are interested in discussing with the school governors a flexible start for the older pupils?
- Promote that timetables for students of 14 upwards should start later? It will help school grades.