Sleep and mental well-being in young people is an important link that can often be overlooked. Sleep is an essential mechanism that we need to survive. We all need sleep, but no more so than when we're still growing and developing. A recent Guardian article on the link between sleep and child mental health points out the negative impact lack of sleep can have on the mental health of children and young people, stating it 'could be more harmful than social media use'.
Sleep and mental well-being go hand in hand for kids and teenagers, which is what this blog is all about. We'll talk about why some young people have trouble sleeping, the impacts lack of sleep has and what you can do to help your kids get a better night's rest.
How much sleep do kids need?
We adults love to complain about how tired we always are... But, did you know that children and young people need on average 3-4 hours more sleep than we do? The NHS recommends:
- School age children: 10-11 hours
- Teenagers: 9-10 hours
- Adults: 6-9 hours
School age children and teenagers lead busy lives. From school learning, extra-curricular activities and sports to homework and seeing their friends, it's no wonder they need all those hours to rest and repair for the next day.
What causes sleep problems in young people?
Like with most health problems, there is no one simple answer to this question. A few common causes, however, include too much caffeine or sugar in their diet, a habit of sleeping very late or very early in the morning, and spending too much time on their phones, video games or computer.
Sometimes, though, sleep problems in children and teenagers can be a sign of a more deeply-rooted mental health issue. This can include anxiety, depression and chronic stress.
Read more about how homeschooling can help children with anxiety.
How mental well-being affects sleep and vice versa
Sleep problems and disorders are relatively common in children and young people. This is likely to be because of mental well-being, as the majority of mental health problems begin at a young age. Stress, anxiety, worry and trauma can all take a major toll on the quality of your child's sleep. Here are some of the different forms sleep issues can take:
- Nightmares: these can be caused by anxiety due to bullying or abuse
- Night terrors: these are different to nightmares. If your child has a night terror, they may scream, seem extremely disturbed, be unable to communicate and won't remember it in the morning. It's important not to wake them up during one of these episodes, but sit with them until it stops
- Sleep walking: similar to night terrors, without the disturbance
- Insomnia: consistently poor quality or amount of sleep over a long period of time
Consistent difficulty sleeping can cause barriers to your child's learning, and can impact on their behaviour too. It can cause problems concentrating on school work, and make them irritable, withdrawn and even depressed. Extreme tiredness will also make them clumsy, and more accident-prone. Lack of sleep is also linked to a weaker immune system, and can impact your child's growth.
If your child or teenager's sleep issues become a consistent and growing problem, it's important that it's taken seriously and you make an appointment with your child's GP as soon as possible.
How to help improve your child's sleep and mental well-being
If your child or teenager struggles with their mental health, it's likely they'll be having trouble sleeping too. As the two are so closely linked, here are a few things you can do to improve both your child's sleep and their mental well-being:
A warm bath can be extremely therapeutic, and not just for the body, but for the mind too. A bath before bedtime can give your child a time to completely relax, setting them up for a better night's sleep.
Staying active is so important for mental health. Having a physical outlet for pent-up energy can help clear the mind, promoting better sleep. Just make sure your child is active earlier in the day, and not too close to bed time.
Make sure your child is making healthy, balanced food choices. Avoiding too much sugar, cutting out caffeine and not eating too much before bed can all help them sleep better.
It's a good idea to keep your child's devices outside of their room while they sleep. Spending too much time on their phone or laptop before bed will keep their mind active - not what you want when you're trying to sleep! Screen addiction also has negative impacts on your child's mental health and behaviour. Read more about screen addiction in children.
Talk about it
Encourage your child or teenager to talk about their sleep problems. Try and create a supportive, open discussion about how they are feeling, anything they may be worried about and what you can do to help them.
Seek professional advice
If your child's sleep or mental health issues continue to get worse with no signs of stopping, it's best to see a medical or mental health professional. They'll be able to give advice on any therapies or medications that will best help your child. Note that it's generally not recommended to give sleeping medication to children without talking it through with your GP first, as many of them aren't safe for kid.