Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

Understanding and Supporting Your Teenagers – few spaces left and I’m not doing it again!

For teenagers who want to sleep better – Part One

I’ve been invited to do an online talk and Q&A on sleep for a large International School in Southern Africa, the American International School of Mozambique.  The school librarian invited me after reading and loving my book, The Awesome Power of Sleep. It’s a while since I wrote about sleep so I thought I’d do two posts about this, for any young people who would love some tools, techniques and tips about having better sleep. I’ll do one post now, in advance of the talk, and then another post afterwards, summing up the points I made.

In this post, I will:

  • Reveal what I want to help you with – what is “better sleep”?
  • Inspire you to prioritise sleep and take it seriously
  • Offer hope for feeling and sleeping better soon!

I want to help you have better sleep but what do I mean by “better sleep”?

  • Usually, this includes sleeping for the right length of time – and for that, you’ll need to know what’s “right”
  • I want you to be able to get to sleep quite easily, at least on most nights – and, if you wake during the night (which is quite normal) you can get back to sleep again
  • And I want you to be able to deal with those inevitable nights when sleep is difficult, without feeling really stressed or distressed about it

So, over these two posts I want to help you understand what sleep is for and how to be in good control of it, not just now but for your whole life. People of all ages can have trouble sleeping – and most people will have trouble sometimes, usually during a period of stress.

There are some extra problems that teenagers often (but not always) have:

  • More stress? Every age group can experience stress but there’s no doubt that for many teenagers this is a particularly high-pressured time. You have exams, peer group issues, big emotions, the need to perform in so many different ways every day, and often with fears about your future or the distress of something worrying happening at home. You don’t usually have the life experience to be able to say “I’ve dealt with this before so I can do it again” so everything can feel very scary, stressful, upsetting and raw. All of that can make it hard to sleep.
  • Pressure to be on social media and to use your phones a lot, including late at night. This can be a problem for adults, too, but see next point!
  • Your prefrontal cortex (PFC) is not fully developed (and won’t be until you’re in your mid-late twenties). Since the PFC is your brain’s control centre, this means you can find it harder than typical adults to stop using your phone or to ignore messages coming in. The science is clear: phones and other electronic devices are not good for sleep.
  • A different sleep pattern in your brain! The hormone that helps us feel sleepy at night, melatonin, switches on late at night in teenagers and adults – some studies suggest it is even later in teenagers than adults. And it certainly switches off later in the morning than it does for adults. This means that when you are woken by your alarm for school, you are most likely to be in deep sleep and not biologically ready to get up. So you feel awful. (You noticed!)

How will you know whether you sleep well enough?

  • You will not feel horribly tired during the day – you’d be able to listen and learn
  • You will not fall asleep instantly at night – because that’s a sign you’re too tired and not getting enough sleep
  • You will not worry and fret about your sleep – you’ll have a healthy attitude to it because it’s not a problem for you

Most teenagers do not get enough sleep during a school-night. Most teenagers are seriously sleep-deprived. It’s actually amazing how you cope so well!

What is the “right” amount of sleep?

Everyone’s a bit different. You might need more than average or less than average. Average ideal numbers of hours are around 7.5 – 8 for adults and 8 – 9+ for teenagers. But the good news is that most people manage perfectly well on a bit less than whatever is “ideal” for them. So, you don’t have to aim for an ideal – just aim to get enough. Enough that you feel OK during the day and that you function well, academically, physically, and emotionally.

Why prioritise sleep? What happens when you sleep well most nights?

  • You process what you learnt during the day so you are better at understanding and remembering it
  • You process emotions and improve mental health – mood is better
  • Cells repair during sleep and chemicals in your brain clear up the debris of dead cells or broken connections
  • Your appetite is healthier next day – a bad night’s sleep makes you more likely to feel very hungry and choose sugary/fatty/salty foods and more snacks so poor sleep leads to weight gain
  • Your concentration is better
  • Your self-control, decision-making and ability to resist temptation all improve
  • You will be physically stronger – you’ll run/swim faster and lift heavier weights

All in all, you’ll feel much better – and that makes it easier to do better. You’ll be likely to perform better in class, in sport and in any of the hobbies and social activities you take part in.

What is the big problem in everything I’ve just said?

Knowing how important sleep is is likely to make you more anxious when you can’t sleep. And feeling anxious is the biggest problem preventing good sleep. Arghhhhhhhhh.

© creativecommonsstockphotos

So, my task (in the talk and in the article I’ll write afterwards) is to do two things:

  • Explain why in fact you do NOT need to worry when you can’t sleep before an exam or other performance
  • Give you all the tricks and techniques you need to have the best possible sleep – I can give you control

You’ll feel so much better when you prioritise sleep. Even on those nights when nothing works, you won’t lie there feeling stressed and panicky. I can teach you to use that time well and still feel great the next day.

I am looking forward to speaking to the students at the American International School in Mozambique. I promise they won’t fall asleep during the session!

Resources for you:

  1. A poster: The Awesome Power of Sleep Poster
  2. A list of tips: Tips for SLEEP
  3. A five-step plan: Five-step sleep plan
  4. Sleep positives and negatives: Sleep Positives and Sleep Negatives

Top tip before my talk: put your phone to sleep at least an hour before your head hits the pillow… Why not try it as an experiment? Could be the most sensible choice you ever made.

Sleep well! And get ready to ask me some great questions.

Pre-order now: A gift for a teenager – for adults to buy for a teenager they care about. I have been busy creating a beautiful package that makes the ideal caring gift for a young person. For an extra gift, make sure you’ve subscribed to this blog/website.

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