Overview: School-age and teen sleep
Professor Tanya Byron believes that British children are sleep deprived, especially teenagers. Experts call them ‘constantly jetlagged’ as they are the most sleep deprived group in our society. According to Tanya Byron this is a major health issue we are largely not aware of and we rarely talk about it. Teen sleep problems can harm cognitive development, cause depression and obesity.
Tanya Byron believes that the real reason for many children’s behaviour, learning and concentration difficulties is a profound lack of sleep. It’s estimated that 85% of teenagers are sleep deprived. Poor sleep and obesity have clear link. When we are tired we get fat, high-carb and sugar cravings. Furthermore, we are too fatigued to exercise. It’s a toxic combination.
American research has shown that teenagers are getting 1-1.5 hours less sleep at night than ten years ago. One survey of 4,000 UK parents showed the average bedtime for 15-year-old was midnight.
The fact is that teens are still growing in many ways: socially, psychologically and physically. Teens need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep per night to further develop, learn and grow. This is more than full-grown adults need and we should remember that it’s the parents’ responsibility to guarantee such sleep. Even more so, it’s our job to teach them to sleep. By nature no kid is a bad sleeper. Some kids can fall asleep more easily than others but fundamentally kids have a natural skill to sleep when the family attitude towards sleep is systematic. If parents themselves are too tired to tackle sleep challenges and there are no boundaries, parents can eventually lose their authority.
Teens and school age kids both still need bedtime routine – in fact we all do across our lives. For teens and school-age kids (4-13) this basically means switching off interactive screens an hour before sleep, a bath, pyjamas, read/music/talking time. Children (and adults) should be asleep within 20 minutes of turning out the light.
It’s good to know that with teenagers things change. Research has shown that circadian rhythm changes during adolescence, so teenagers’ body clocks start to run 2 hours later. This means that their best core sleep time is midnight to 9am. Screens also delay the body’s production of melatonin (sleep hormone) which can make them sleep later.
Guidance by different age groups
Guidance by professor Tanya Byron
- 4-5 years: 11-13 hours per night
- 5-9 years: 10-11 hours per night
Nightmares and night-time fears are very common at the younger end of this age group. It’s important not to respond to anxiety with anxiety. Sometimes a no-nonsense, brisk approach is best. As a parent you can naturally check the monsters behind the desk but don’t overdo it. If going to bed remains problematic, try gradual withdrawal. When you put them to bed, sit/lie on the floor near them but look away and say nothing (only ‘ssh’ if they try to talk to you). If they get up, lie them down and say nothing. Over the next few nights get farther away from the child until you are out of the room. At the older end of this group different requests can delay the falling asleep. Preempt the requests by doing them before going to bed.
Sleep requirement: 9-10 hours per night.
According to Professor Byron this is a dangerous age for sleep patterns because earlier routines often get abandoned. We start to leave them to go to bed by themselves and they keep on watching TV and fiddling with their pads and smartphones under the covers. Bedtimes creep later but these kids still require a good 10 hours sleep per night. The only right way here is to re-establish clear boundaries and bedtime routine. Bedtime is also a good time for one to one chatting, catching up with each other about day’s events, reading or listening to favorite music.
Sleep requirement: 8.5-9.5 per night
Teens need still quite a lot of sleep because of the enormous changes to their brains and bodies. The common problem in today’s high-tech world is that the teenagers’ rooms are more like entertainment rooms with all the most recent gadgets. The dilemma here is that exposure to screens can delay the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone that tells our body to fall asleep). On top of this the circadian rhythm changes challenge the necessary sleep requirement even further. A sensible bedtime during weekdays could be around 10pm. Technologies shouldn’t be allowed in bed. If they won’t agree move all technology away from their rooms.
More information and tips with teen sleep
The Bedtime Live team filmed at Monkseaton High School on Tyneside which has experimented with starting lessons at 10am. The following year GCSE grades shot up by 20% and persistent absenteeism fell by 27%. The best results were marked among boys.