Here in the Harper Bee Hive, we’ve noticed something – our tweens are having a hard time getting a good night’s rest. We spoke to occupational therapist and practice principal of Gateway Therapies, Dr Nicole Grant, about why this might be the case, and what we can do to help.
Whether it’s staying up until the early hours or struggling to get out of bed in the morning, our tweens are having a hard time with sleep. It’s a tricky problem to tackle – after all, you can’t force someone to go to sleep.
But you can’t fix a problem without knowing what’s causing it, and that’s where Dr Nicole Grant comes in. With over 14 years of experience in Brisbane specialising in paediatrics – among other things – Nicole primarily works in the development and provision of treatment programs, and assessment across a number of functional areas.
“From a developmental perspective, there is a massive period of growth that happens during the tween-age years,” says Nicole.
“Generally, kids start to need less sleep at night, so you will see a push back around bed time, and complaints of ‘but I’m not tired yet!’.”
Lack of sleep, Nicole says, can be caused by a number of underlying issues. Growing pains, for one, are normal in the tween-age years, but you should seek medical attention if the pain is persistent.
Anxiety, too, can present as stomach aches, headaches and other physical symptoms, and isn’t uncommon in the tween-age bracket. Anxiety can arise from the increase in demands of daily life as school gets trickier, friendships become more complicated, and children become more aware of global issues that can sometimes be overwhelming.
While one bad night’s sleep might not seem too serious on its own, there are some serious physical and mental health issues that can arise from constantly disrupted or inadequate sleep – beyond just irritability.
“Prolonged fatigue can affect executive functioning skills, which are those skills required for problem solving, sequencing tasks, task initiation, attention and concentration, and many other skills required for academic performance,” says Nicole. “Fatigue can result in impaired thinking and reasoning, lead to anger and emotional regulation issues, and result in feelings of sadness and depression.”
Our bodies, regardless of age, need sleep to thrive. Children who have poor sleep over a prolonged period of time will generally struggle in all aspects of their life – and being a tween is already hard enough.
What can we do to help our tweens sleep?
- Keep to a routine: This is just as important in the tween years as it is for toddlers and babies. Bed time should be the same each night, with a preceding routine that is appropriate for your child’s age. This may include things like homework, computer time, outside time, shower, dinner, and reading.
- Manage screen-time: Think about enforcing no screen time in the hours leading up to bed time – devices and computer screens trigger and excite the nervous system, and young, developing brains need to be calm to fall asleep.
- Consider their dinner: Avoid eating heavy meals too close to the end of the day and choose meals and snacks that do not result in a burst of energy right before bed time.
- Create a cosy bedroom: Ensure your child’s bedroom is conducive to a good night’s sleep. Talk to them about what feels calming. Look at lighting, clutter, curtains (open or closed?), bedding and pillows, positioning of furniture, door open or closed, cup of water by the bed, and other things that may need to be taken away or added for your child to feel just right.
- Talk it out: Does your tween suddenly have a million things to talk about at night time? At the end of the day, we start to process all that has happened, and it is common for kids to want to chat about it right before bed time. Spend some time with your tween if they want to talk about their day or ask them to write all their thoughts in a journal or diary. Also, talk to your tween about the importance of good quality sleep so that they can make good choices for themselves.