Teenagers, Sleep and Self-Isolation: Tough Times!

What I have discovered since becoming a parent: if my kids have problems, I have problems!

When they were young their “problems” could be anything from not being able to find their favourite toy to finding out their best friend had a new best friend. I always thought teen age years would bring some sanctuary, and it has to a certain extent, but I find myself with a new and different set of problems to face.

Relationships, school, college and work social media just being a few, and now –

Coronavirus and lockdown. Fun for all!

Since we’ve all been in lockdown, I have discovered a new problem that I thought I had nailed years ago when the boys were young. Something that we don’t think about to often but that has become an issue in my house, and in many people’s houses, I’d imagine. That problem is sleep!

I invested time and energy into good sleep routines, with 3 boys under 5 it was not easy, but I was determined they would have good sleep patterns as I believed that was the key to a healthy lifestyle. We had bath times, stories and staggered bedtimes, and it worked (most of the time).

Things have been up and down as they have grown older; they need more autonomy and to develop their own sleep routines and patterns. On the whole, they sleep as normally as most teenagers do, with late nights here and there, holiday times and weekends.

Then the coronavirus sent us in to lockdown and life has changed dramatically for us all. We can explain to our young people the social and moral responsibility to stay at home, but it is hitting them hard.

No meeting friends at their favourite places, no sports and clubs to take part in.

Since schools and colleges closed young people have found themselves locked in the house with parents or care givers. However, they are still connected to whole world out there via the internet. I think its great my boys are communicating with their friends on games, social media and apps but they are now finding it hard to switch off at night.

As the lockdown days have gone on their sleep pattern has become more and more disrupted until we reached a point where they basically nocturnal. They would rise from their beds messy haired and blurry eyed in the late afternoon, scouring the kitchen cupboards for “breakfast”. Sound familiar to anyone else?

Whereas we would be winding down for the evening and cooking dinner, their “day” was just starting, and evening meals of curry or cooked dinner could not be stomached so soon after waking up. As the sun set, they were just waking up and their thoughts turn to games consoles and phones.

By the time we were retiring to bed the boys would be in full swing playing games on their consoles, headphones and microphones attached they would be engaged premier league football matches or team games of life and death importance.

Our pleas for quiet would gradually increase as would the boy’s inability to comply with them. I wondered were all the other parents out there making the same pleas?

Our tiredness would lead to frustration and anger, and after broken nights of sleep as the boys would be talking, walking around the house making food and drinks. The morning sun would rise, and it was our turn to be blurry eyed. We struggled through tired days occasionally looking in on them sleeping peacefully, unable to rouse themselves to our calls of “get up” and “don’t waste the beautiful sunshine”, eventually we decided action was needed.

We put our plan to them, shock and horror formed their expressions when we announced no internet after 10pm. Cries of “no” and “what will I do”, “what about my friends” bounced off the walls. To them it felt like a virtual lockdown as well a physical one. But we were at our wits’ end and explained this was not a punishment but a bid to improve their lifestyles.

A minimum of 8-9 hours’ sleep is recommended for teenagers according to the NHS.

My teenagers were definitely having 8-9 hours’ sleep, but during the day instead of overnight!

The first night of virtual lockdown was difficult for all of us. The boys struggled to settle and were looking for their usual ways of relieving boredom, first port of call, smart phone for apps, videos and games. So, as you can imagine it didn’t take long before all their data was used up.

The next day we woke them and peeled them out of their beds, assuring them we knew they were tired but if they could find some activity to keep them busy during the day tonight would be better than last night.

So, we went for a walk, got some fresh air and sunshine, found jobs in the house and garden and that age old request of parents everywhere …… “tidy your bedroom!”

Regular exercise is known to improve quality of sleep and being outside is proven to help with emotional and physical wellbeing so we tried to instil this theory into them and despite protestations of being too tired, and that they “couldn’t be bothered” we persuaded them to join our daily household walk.

One week in and things are much better, last night my youngest teenager had already turned off his light for sleep by 11pm, and the boys have said they feel brighter and more alert during the day.

Times are difficult for them and as well as us. We don’t want to deprive of them interacting with their friends in this newly restricted world we are all coming to terms with, but action was needed to stop them turning in to nocturnal people.

Its difficult to change sleep patterns, but the benefits of a good night’s sleep can benefit young people in lots of ways, such as reducing pimples and spots, maintaining a healthy weight, grow (growth hormones are released in teens during sleep), increased energy, better concentration on school college and work.

Professor Jason Ellis of Northumbria University recommends the 10 commandments of sleep hygiene,

  1. Keep a regular sleep routine.
  2. Get out into natural light (I always open the curtains in the boys’ bedrooms in the morning.)
  3. Exercise regularly .
  4. Avoid stimulants 8 hours before bedtime (no more energy drinks!)
  5. Don’t go to bed full, thirsty or hungry.
  6. No screen time before bed, the blue light supresses the sleep hormone that makes us sleepy.
  7. Don’t use alcohol before bed, it’s a sedative but will lead to poor quality sleep.
  8. Avoid nicotine before bed, it’s a short acting stimulant.
  9. Keep the bedroom cool, dark and quiet..
  10. Hide the clock, clockwatching increases anxiety when struggling to drop off.

It’s so difficult isn’t it? Thank you for reading the blog, and feel free to leave your comments below.

Good luck to all the teens and parents and care givers of teens out there facing similar struggles!