Helping older children and teenagers catch a sleep wave

In our country, many young people are simply not getting the right amount of sleep.

The part of their minds that coordinates and weighs-up options - the pre-frontal cortex - needs rest to be able to function properly when they’re awake. Experts say that teenagers need 9.5 to 10.5 hours of sleep a night. How often do you think that is happening? Not. There’s a chart here for you can see how much sleep teenagers need here and here.

To get ready to go off to sleep, the experts says that we all catch a sleep wave. That’s the time each night when we eventually and naturally begin to feel tired, and know that we are winding down to head off to bed. In this case, think scientific wave - like on an oscilloscope. Scientific waves go up and down over time. A big problem with being in the right place to go off to sleep is that certain outside factors will help you to be in the right space to catch the wave - and certain things won’t.

An obvious no-no is coffee and exercise; they will stimulate you. But another biggy is using computers too late at night.

Here’s the problem. Computers, tablets, and smartphones emit a light that stops melatonin from dropping down - a hormone that helps us to go off to sleep. Computers’ artificial light – often called blue light - has a disruptive effect on sleep.  Night-time exposure to artificial light disrupts the body's circadian rhythm - the 24-hour biological clock that controls our sleep-wake cycle. This is even more so with blue wavelength light. Blue wavelength light suppresses melatonin levels more strongly than any other light wavelength. Disruption of melatonin can contribute to obesity and cardiovascular disease. Our phones, tablets and computers all emit blue light.

Fortunately, there are apps on the market to reduce blue light. The circadian screen adjustment app f.lux is available for use on iPhone, iPad, and computers. Even better: It’s free. Download and open the app to set your location, then forget about it. The app will adjust the blue light for you at sunset every day. For Android devices try a similar app called Twilight.

When we teach parents about technology and its place in the home, we refer to the internet as an invited guest, not an assumed resident. This ultimately means that we may not be able to control what happens "out there" on the net, but we can control what happens in our homes — and we should, because it has BIG implications for protecting our children’s mental and physical well-being. The digital world is part of life these days, but it should not define our children’s well-being. So, download these apps, huh. That’s one thing you can do for your kids today.

Michael Hawton, Psychologist and Author (Engaging Adolescents and Talk Less Listen More), parentshop.com.au/blog , facebook.com/EngagingAdolescents/
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