Meet DavidDavid struggles to get to sleep in the week but falls asleep at the weekends. This would indicate that David doesn’t suffer from insomnia, but Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, which is common in teenagers as their sleep cycles are different to adults’. Teenagers want to go to sleep late and wake up late, and the school day does not make this easy. David drinks a lot of caffeine to compensate for poor sleep, and he uses a lot of gadgets before bed. His lack of sleep makes him tired, irritable and unable to concentrate, so he often underperforms at school.
Often, teenagers sleep on a mattress that was bought when they were four or five years old. This can become very uncomfortable as they grow older. David’s bedroom should also be reconsidered, and his décor should not be too stimulating. Neutral colours and simple decoration can help this. His bedroom should also be kept clean and tidy, as this is less distracting. In terms of light levels and temperature, he would benefit from blackout blinds, and a temperature of 16-18 degrees Celsius. He should, where possible, remove electronic devices from his bedroom before bed or alternatively zone his bedroom into sleep and ‘play’ areas.
David should undertake a strategy of sleep restriction. He should not go to bed until he is actually ready for sleep, introducing a ‘Golden Hour’ of sleep inducing habits an hour before bedtime. In this case, he should begin his wind down routine at midnight, aiming to fall asleep at around 1am. Once he is falling asleep within twenty minutes, this routine should be brought forward to 11pm. If David struggles to fall asleep, he should get up out of bed and engage with his parents, who should in turn demonstrate their support for him.
In the hour before bed, David should steer clear of devices and blue screens, like tablets and smartphones. He should have a bath or a shower to help him wind down, and also try magnesium supplements, which will help manage his body clock. Caffeine should be avoided well before bedtime; he should not drink tea, coffee, fizzy drinks or energy drinks after 3pm.
In the couple of hours before bedtime, David needs to be relaxing and winding down. If he is artistic, drawing could help. David could start meditating and following a Yogic breathing technique, such as the 4-7-8 technique, where we breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7, then breath out with a ‘whoosh’ for 8 seconds.
David’s programme is built around the fact he goes to sleep very late. We want to use a Sleep Restriction strategy, which means he isn’t in bed unless he is sleeping.
11pm – Wind Down: Any exercise, homework, browsing online or playing on games consoles should be finished by this time, along with eating and drinking large amounts. He should get his clothes out ready for the next day, as well as preparing his school bag and lunch box, so he can get up as late as possible in the morning.
12am – The Golden Hour: Start the wind down routine. David should take a warm bath or shower to help with his production of melatonin and have a small snack such as non-sugary cereal with milk or oatcakes with cheese. David should also consider meditation or yoga at this time, helping to lower his heart rate and release the stresses of the day.
1am – Bedtime: If David goes to bed and does not go to sleep within half an hour, he should get up and start the process again. If he finds he cannot fall asleep by 1am, move the programme forward by half an hour. Eventually, when David has settled into this routine, we will move his bedtime back gradually, aiming for a sleep time of 11pm.
7.30am – Wake Up: David starts school at 8.30am, and by preparing his things the night before, he should be able to wake at about 7.30am. He will leave for school at 8.10am, and in the 40 minutes before leaving, he will have his breakfast. If he struggles to wake, he should try a sunshine alarm clock, which will help suppress the production of melatonin and help him to feel more awake.
As with all sleep programmes, things may get worse before they get better. David is quite an extreme case, so he should expect a period of six weeks to two months before his routine is embedded.
If you’re a parent with a teen that doesn’t sleep and would like to know how you can help them, or if you’re a teen who struggles to sleep or doesn’t see the benefit in it, then take a look at our dedicated Teen Sleep website. Here you’ll find practical pointers include why switching off gadgets, the right and wrong foods to eat and relaxing is important.
If you want to monitor your own sleep patterns and habits then why not complete a sleep diary by downloading one here.