More interesting facts about sleep*:
- A wide range of things that can happen while we sleep such as jerks, hallucinations, paralysis, snoring, restless legs, sleepwalking, night terrors, binge eating at night and wet dreams
- Thinking one is awake while really asleep is called sleep misperception and it’s a very common problem
- A third of all grade 6 children report night fears and most of this group describe them as intense or very intense
- For reasons we don’t understand the tendency to fall asleep during the day does increase with puberty
- Among high school students about a third report sleep talking at least once a week
- Sleepwalking is more common in teenagers than in any other age group with 8% of high school students reporting it ‘habitually’
- Binge drinking to the point of being really drunk when falling into bed, can result in poor sleep for up to a week, even if no more alcohol is consumed during that time
- Nine out of ten people who play a skiing computer game, dream of skiing that night.
A very recent discovery is that our eyes have receptors for blue-coloured light, independent of normal vision, and these receptors signal to our inbuilt body clock to reset for a new 24-hour cycle.
Guess what kind of light is emitted by screens – TVs, phones, tablets, laptops, etc.? Blue light! (Turn off all lights when the TV is on and you can see the room bathed in blue-coloured light). Experiments show that screen time can lower the sleep hormone melatonin.
If you are having trouble falling asleep a trial of avoiding screens in the 1-2 hours before bed may be worth trying.
The effect of any bright light close to the face may also delay sleep.
If you must use a screen at night, try turning down the brightness.
Given that teenagers have a naturally occurring tendency for melatonin levels to increase later in the evening compared to children, meaning they prefer to stay up later and rise later, adding screen time to the mix is a double whammy.
Using devices in bed is stimulating and that doesn’t help falling asleep either, and it also risks associating time in bed with alertness rather than sleep.
A good way for parents to tell if teens are not getting enough sleep is to monitor how late they sleep at weekends, says Dr Seton of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research. "It's a red flag if they sleep more than two hours beyond their normal wake up time."
Snoring in children may indicate a problem that needs investigation; a visit to the doctor is also wise to see if any other physical factors are involved in sleep problems.
*A very comprehensive free e-book on sleep by Dorothy Bruck, professor of psychology at Victoria University, discusses just about every aspect of sleep you can think of. Download at http://vuir.vu.edu.au/467/ or search “Teenage Sleep: Understanding and helping the sleep of 12-20 year olds”.