When we fall asleep at night our brain is actually more active than when we are awake! And one of the main tasks it carries out is to process the negative, stressful thoughts and experiences of the day.
This happens during rapid eye movement sleep (REM) – which is when you dream.
Imagine your kids have an argument and it doesn’t get resolved positively. The negative experience of that argument is now stored in the brain – at The Youth Fairy, we call it a stress bucket, and we’ve all got one!
When your child goes into REM sleep they will re-run that argument as a dream, process it and most likely have forgotten about it the next day. Or if they do remember they’ll likely not feel so emotionally bothered.
We all know what it feels like to sleep on something!
So, on the assumption our kids aren’t piling too much into the stress bucket in the first place AND get the correct amount of sleep, they will dream away their worries, waking in the morning feeling refreshed, happy and without stress.
Many children aren’t managing to get their required daily hours of sleep. On average a teenager will only get between 7 & 7 ¼ hours each night. There may be many factors in this including gaming late into the night, being on social media or too much homework. Even their body clock can play a part as teenagers are generally wired to stay up late & wake up late too. That said, with school starting first thing in the morning, it’s not sustainable for them to be burning the candle.
We don’t get REM sleep all in one go and the longest, best quality of this is during the last 2 hours of your natural sleep cycle.
So if they’re not getting enough sleep they won’t be receiving that richer quality of REM sleep and if they are struggling to sleep they are probably giving that stress bucket a good top up before they drift off!
More in the stress bucket = harder to empty = waking up feeling more stressed, miserable or anxious.
Here are some ideas to help improve your child’s sleep:
- Turn off devices at least an hour before bed as these stimulate the brain & the light from the screen stops the production of our sleepy chemical “melatonin”. Try to get them to do something calming in that hour like reading or something they find relaxing.
- Set a regular sleep routine. Try to get them to go to bed & wake up at the same time each day (ideally including weekends). The body will then get into a rhythm of when it is time to sleep & will find it easier to drift off.
- Avoid caffeine! Imagine your brain has lots of little plugs sockets (receptors) for something called adenosine (promotes sleepiness) and when we need to sleep it plugs up all the sockets and we fall in to a peaceful slumber. Caffeine plugs them up first so they can’t receive the adenosine! This makes it harder to drift off until the caffeine is out of your system and the plug sockets are free again. The adenosine has nowhere to go so stays in the brain until the caffeine has gone then we get a massive rush of sleepiness as it plugs up the free sockets. Unfortunately though it’s not when we are supposed to be asleep! Probably in double maths then next day. Caffeine can take as long as 9 & a half hours for just 50% of that caffeine to leave your system. Maybe opt for decaf options instead but be aware this does also contain caffeine.
- Have a really dark room as this promotes the production of melatonin which is what gives us the feeling of being tired and ready for bed.
- Increase and engage in more positive activities and interactions to help keep the stress bucket down in the first place. When we have REM sleep it burns A LOT of energy! So if there is too much in the bucket the brain can’t cope and will wake you up in the middle of the night to make it stop. This then stresses you out more as you can’t go back to sleep – more topping up of the bucket!