It’s typical for parents of babies and toddlers to lose sleep at night. Sleep struggles at this age are common and once parents have a handle on it they often think they are in the clear. Little do they know is that as their children get older they can exhibit new sleep issues, and suddenly parents of tweens are back in the throes of lost sleep and wondering how to help their child sleep better.
It’s important for tweens to get a good night sleep as they are growing, becoming increasingly active in school and after-school activities, and need well rested minds and bodies to strengthen their cognitive ability, memory, alertness, and overall mood and behaviour for school and learning. As a parent of a tween though you may find that at this age it takes longer for your tween to get to bed. Within my practice I see children at this age suddenly start to sleep less even though their bodies still need the same amount of sleep – 10-11 hours of sleep per night. The reasons for tween insomnia can vary. The first step towards healthier sleep for any individual is to start promoting proper sleep hygiene and this definitely includes children as well.
Puberty and Biological Changes
A huge contributing factor for sleep disturbances for tweens is puberty. The average age of puberty for girls is between 10 and 12 years of age and for boys is 12-16 years of age. It’s during this age group that there is a shift in their natural sleep rhythms – their circadian rhythms, and melatonin – our sleep hormone – is secreted later at night. This hormone is what signals to the body that it is time to go to sleep. If you notice that suddenly it’s taking longer for your tween to fall asleep at night you need to understand that when this shift happens it can be biologically impossible for our tweens and teens to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime even if we want them to.
Loss of Bedtime Routine
This is the age where activities, sports, and homework increase. Bedtimes begin to be pushed out too late, and overscheduling leaves children overtired and exhausted making it more difficult for them to fall asleep. Parents are encouraged to make sure that 80% of the time their child’s sleep is protected. While activities and extra curricular activities are important so is sleep, and trying to find a healthy balance between the two should be a priority within your family. Also avoid Band-aid solutions like melatonin. The first route to take before any sleep aid supplements should be behavioural and emotional sleep modifications.
Tween Sleep Solution: Practice consistent sleep patterns with your child. At this age aim for a bedtime between 9 and 10 p.m., and have a consistent wake time in the morning. Even on the weekends.
Technology and Maintaining Their Social Status
We must act as our child’s sleep ambassador. Technology is finding it’s way into children’s bedrooms and sleep is being traded for staying up-to-date socially and catching up on their favourite TV show or YouTube channel. We must remove tech from all of our sleep environments. Get it out. We need to monitor this for our tweens and also act as role models and follow our own rules as well. It’s important to provide your child with a sleep environment that is conducive to sleep. Installing blackout blinds and creating a nice and dark environment is the best way to help signal to your child’s brain that it’s time to release that sleep inducing hormone – melatonin. Remove technology from all bedrooms and be a sleep role model for you child. Create a family docking station within your home where everyone can plug in overnight, keeping everything charged and out of your bedrooms.
Tween Sleep Solution: Bring back bedtime and incorporate a calming bedtime routine with no electronics at least 60 minutes before bed. Use this time to bring down stimulation for your child, connect after a busy day, and prepare them for sleep.
It’s also important to monitor the battles. I understand that you want your child to fall asleep early enough but at this age it can be so difficult. Screaming and yelling right before bedtime isn’t good for either of you. If you feel a battle about to start take a deep breath and walk away. Provide all the above tools for your child and sleep will come. Just like when they are babies, it can take time but they can do it.
I provide free child and family sleep support on my Facebook page. I invite you to join our sleep community as I work towards Good Night Sleep Site’s mission of a healthier rested family unit. For more sleep tips please visit Good Night Sleep Site and visit me on Instagram and Twitter. Join our movement and #BringBackBedtime.
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About Alanna McGinn
Alanna McGinn is Founder and Certified Sleep Consultant of Good Night Sleep Site, a global sleep consulting practice. She is Representative and Director for the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants (IACSC) and created Good Night Sleep Site after her own family’s struggle of sleep deprivation. Through her research, education, and natural sleep instincts she has helped both adults, children, and major corporations worldwide erase their sleep debt and achieve sleep success. She and her husband, Mike, live in Burlington, Ontario with their 3 children (1+twins!) and when she’s not on route to the bus stop or tripping over fire trucks and tea sets, she and her global team are working with families to overcome their sleep challenges. You can follow her expert advice in national publications like Today’s Parent, Yummy Mummy Club, PBS Kids, and Canadian Living. Alanna strives in helping families and corporations overcome their sleep challenges and have happy well-rested smiles in the morning. You can find out more about Alanna McGinn and Good Night Sleep Site at www.goodnightsleepsite.com.