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Five questions about teenagers and sleep

Missed our recent webinar on “Teenagers and Sleep” where we were joined by Professor Russell Foster, a world-leading expert on sleep from the University of Oxford? You can now watch it on demand here!


Below are some of the most popular questions that Professor Foster addressed in the webinar:

1. How much sleep should we be getting? 

  • It is most commonly accepted that adolescents should get 8-10 hours of sleep. However, this is a generalisation, sleep is like shoe size – it is different for everyone. Try not to be too prescriptive about how much sleep you need as this can generate anxiety.
  • Although the amount of sleep you need might fluctuate depending on things like your age, the season and many other factors, try and identify how much sleep you need and stick to that requirement. To do this, ask yourself some key questions: Do you oversleep on your days off? Are you dependent on an alarm clock? Do you feel fatigued when you’re awake?  This will help you answer how much sleep you’re getting and how much you might need.

2. What can I do to help fit my sleep around  my natural circadian rhythm? 

  • Control your access to light. Exposure to morning light by going outside or from a light box can help advance your body clock and make it easier to wake up earlier. 
  • Stabilise your light exposure. However tempting, don’t oversleep at the weekend to make up for lost sleep, as this will cause you to miss the morning light and shift your body clock later. 

3. I find it hard to fall asleep – how can I help myself relax?

  • Avoid using smartphones or devices for at least 30 minutes before going to bed because of the alerting effect it can have on your brain which delays sleep onset. 
  • As a helpful wind-down before bed, choose activities you find relaxing. Often we need to address the stress in our lives to help us sleep better.
  •  Exercise is good for building sleep pressure but try not to exercise too close to bedtime as this will be counterproductive.
  • Avoid taking long naps after 3pm. This makes it more difficult to get to sleep at night and means your body can fall into a negative pattern of shortened night-time sleep. However, short, occasional naps are fine. 
  • Sleep takes up a third of our lives so think about your sleep environment: make sure it’s not too warm and if you can, invest in a good mattress and bedding. If possible, remove television and work equipment and try to make your bedroom a haven for sleep. If exposure to the sun in the summer months is making you wake up earlier, consider the use of blackout blinds.

4. When I wake in the night, I find it hard to sleep again. My app says I have very poor sleep. Help!

  • Firstly, don’t take sleep apps too seriously. They can tell you roughly when you went to sleep and when you woke up, but they are not accurate enough to comment on the quality of your sleep.
  • If you have periods of wakefulness at night, stay relaxed and calm, keep the lights low and try not to watch the clock. It is perfectly normal to wake up at night. If you stay calm, you will almost always fall back to sleep.

5. I am a teacher. How can I help my students understand their sleep needs and get better quality sleep?

  • A great way is to introduce sleep education into the school environment. Students should be aware of their sleep needs and the benefits of sleep: a decent night of sleep defines how we function during the day. BrainWaves has produced a free lesson on Teenagers and Sleep which you can access here

Watch the webinar!

We hope you found these tips helpful. You can find out more in our sleep webinar, and in Professor Foster’s book, Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock and How it Can Revolutionise Your Sleep and Health.

About the author

Naomi French is a School Research Liaison Manager at BrainWaves, responsible for supporting schools on the BrainWaves Research Programme.  She was previously a year 6 class teacher and subject leader for PSHE.