Final exams like those of the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert have high demands leaving some students very overwhelmed and stressed. This may lead to negatively influencing their wellbeing and not getting good quality sleep which is required for learning and memory. These aspects are vital for exam time and without proper sleep, it can dramatically diminish information being retained and recalled during exam time and creating a sense of overwhelm.
On top of all that, teenagers go to bed late and find it extremely difficult to get up in the morning, which is not a good start to the day.
When your children are young, you wish they would sleep in, giving you a few more hours of shuteye. However, by the time they are teenagers, you may feel like you are having to pry them out of their beds every morning! They go to bed later, and they have difficulty waking up in the morning. What is going on?
Are teens just being lazy?
The answer is, “no.” Studies have shown that teenagers’ brains are different from that of younger children and from adults as well. In fact, the time of puberty is when sleep changes become evident. Because teens’ bodies are undergoing so many physical and emotional changes, their need for sleep is more than the average adult. Between nine and ten hours are required every night.
What sleep changes occur in teens?
The circadian rhythm (or internal body clock), that tells you when you should be sleeping and when you should wake up, is delayed in teens. Research has confirmed this. So instead of going to bed at 8 or 9 p.m., teens aren’t sleepy until 10 or 11 p.m. This then results in waking up later too.
At exam time there seems to be an enormous amount of work to get done causing stress and overwhelm. Making a clear study plan that contains small achievable goals can make things much more manageable. Sit down with your teen and help them make out a detailed plan for the final few weeks of study and for the exam period itself. This together will help to reduce anxiety and allowing for a more relaxing wind down time before bed.
Tips for parents to help their teens get better sleep:
- Teach them the importance of sleep – From a young age, it is important to tell your children why sleep is so important. It’s just like teaching them that eating healthy foods and exercise are important. The best way to teach them, is to model it yourself.
- Limit technological device use at least an hour to 90 minutes before bedtime – Smartphones, computers, televisions, video games, etc. should be turned off to avoid the blue light emitted from them. This will allow melatonin – the sleep hormone – to be produced in the body, and it will make it easier to fall asleep and have better quality sleep. Further avoidance of blue light is possible by using amber-colored glasses in the evenings, as well as the use of red lightbulbs in the bedroom. Limiting devices or blocking out time during the day can help avoid distractions, helping them to focus on the task at hand, studying.
- Help teens with their schedules – Another important part of parenting and helping teens get the sleep they need for better exam success, is to help them plan out their schedules. This will help reduce overwhelm and by making a study plan, all the tasks will seem more achievable. Teens are inexperienced at prioritising tasks, and your guidance is necessary. Help them plan their schedules, studying, extra-curricular activities, household chores, etc.
- Allow time to relax before bedtime – Do not schedule things right up until bedtime. In the last hour before bedtime, teach your teen to do something relaxing such as having a bath or reading a book in a quiet atmosphere. Keep the home quiet, and calm, as much as possible.
- Allow sunlight exposure in the morning – Parents can open up the curtains in their teen’s bedroom in the morning to let the natural light in. This will help the teen’s body wake up.
- Keep naps short – A teen may want to have a nap after an exam, but it should be limited to no more than 30 minutes. Any longer, and it is more likely to make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime or to delay bedtime even more.
- Maintain a schedule – Even on weekends, teens need to stay on a schedule. This means not sleeping in more than two hours past regular weekday wake times. This ensures that the body’s internal clock stays on schedule.
Putting these simple practises and forming good sleep habits can help your teenager to transition easier through their physical and emotional changes of puberty, improving their energy and positive outlook especially at exam time.
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