Dreaming big: How your teen can reset their sleep cycle for success

Teens need to reset their sleeping times now to be ready for school, writes Andrew Fuller. He gives them a step-by-step guide to make it happen.

It is now only a few short weeks before the school year begins. It is time to reset your sleeping times, so you are ready to begin the school year with all your brain neurons firing.

Now I know this is a pain. I am not writing this to be popular. I am writing this to help you succeed this year. Thinking you can party or game all night for the next few weeks and then magically flick a switch and show up for the first day of school rested and raring to begin learning is nothing short of ‘rocks-in-your-head’ delusional.

Flick the switch and re-adjust now

It takes time for your body and brain to adjust to the demands of school hours. We need to reset the time your pineal gland releases your natural sleep hormone: melatonin. This paper outlines the stages of adjusting your sleep patterns and helping you to be school-ready. Let’s keep this short because I know it is not news you want to hear.

‘Just let me finish this game’

This is the war cry that echoes in households across the country. Computer games are so compelling it is most likely that you will play them until you fall into an exhausted heap. Let’s assume you are never voluntarily going to say, ‘OK enough is enough. I should now stop playing this game and go to sleep.’

The present every student needs

The first step is to buy, beg, or borrow an alarm clock. Not a clock radio, not a smart watch, and certainly not your phone. An old fashioned alarm clock. You will grumble at this and say, ‘I’ll just use my phone.’ There are two problems with this:

1. The bright light of your phone will interfere with your sleep patterns and make it less likely for you to succeed. Viewing bright light between 10pm and 4am suppresses your dopaminergic pathways and reduces motivation.

2. The risk is you’ll check something else (messages, chats etc.) and before you know it, you have lost an hour of sleep. Knowing that it is 3.40 am doesn’t help you to sleep any better.

Now, (deep breaths here!) set your alarm clock to wake you up two hours before you have been getting up over the holidays. Yes, you read that correctly – two hours.

Stumble out of bed

The second step is to get out of bed. You are not going to like doing this for the first few mornings. I am sorry. My heart goes out to you. I feel your pain BUT if you want to succeed at school you need to be awake and switched on at the right times.

Good Morning Sunshine

The third step is, even before showering, get dressed and go outside. Ideally, make a delicious breakfast and eat it outside in the sunshine. Don’t wear sunglasses. Listen to some upbeat music while you do this. This will increase your Vitamin D levels, reset your inner body clock and lift your mood. For the first few mornings you will groan, complain, yawn, and probably curse my name. It only takes two days of this for the reset to begin. You may need additional caffeine to get through the earlier morning slug-out.

Out and about

Fourthly, get active. Early morning exercise increases your focus and motivation. Getting your heart rate up, even a little bit will increase your focus and get you ready for the day.

Be a creature of habit

The fifth step is to make good sleep part of your routine. Goals are good but systems are better. Having a sleep routine provides you with a massive edge in school and in life. Even though it won’t feel fun to begin with, you’ll end up feeling calmer and happier. In the unlikely possibility that you might consider this, the costs to you of being sleep deprived include: 

  • Weight gain
  • Poor concentration
  • Microsleeps (nodding off during the day)
  • Poor decision making
  • Impaired thinking
  • Increased skin sensitivity
  • Shorter life (a five per cent reduction of REM sleep increases mortality by 15 per cent)

What if I get tired?

You will. The point of the two-hour shift is to give your daily sleep cycles time to reset. You will feel like going to sleep earlier. If you feel like a member of the walking dead for the first few days, having a brief nap in the afternoon is a much better option than sleeping in later in the morning.

Increase your sleep efficiency

So, the final squillion dollar question is: how can you get some time to yourself without waiting until the rest of the house is snoozing? Most teens stay up late because they can feel free. This means parents must think deeply. Parents, how much privacy are you prepared to give and how much do you trust? Parents can provide maximal guarantees of teenage privacy while also doing as much as possible to create an earlier waking time.

Copyright Andrew Fuller

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More tips and resources

More tips about how to maximise your success can be found at:

Andrew’s websites

www.mylearningstrengths.com  (45,000 young people in the past year discovered their learning strengths and found how to increase success and motivation).

Books for parents

Tricky Behaviours
The A to Z of Feelings,
Unlocking Your Child’s Genius (Bad Apple Press)

Books for teachers

Guerilla Tactics for Teachers (from www.andrewfuller.com.au)
Tricky Behaviours
Tricky Teens
Unlocking Your Child’s Genius (Bad Apple Press)
Neurodevelopmental Differentiation- Optimising Brain Systems to Maximise Learning (HawkerBrownlow)

About Andrew

Andrew is a clinical psychologist, author and speaker, and a regular contributor to The Parents Website.

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