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How to help your secondary school child sleep well

Returning to school after the summer holidays can be challenging for your child. If your child has recently made the transition to secondary school, they are at an age where not only do they have to learn a whole new daily routine but they are also approaching (or beginning) puberty. You should not be surprised, therefore, if your normally-active child seems tired, irritable or lethargic. With growth comes changes in behaviour – your normally (mostly) obedient child may start to push boundaries and may well want to stay up later at night because they see this as their right as they are now ‘growing up’. Perversely, though, they need just as much sleep now, particularly as they pass through puberty, as they did when they were much younger, to give their bodies time to develop and their minds to rest after busy days at secondary school. It is recommended that children aged between 6 and 13 years should sleep for between 9 and 11 hours, whilst older teens (aged 14 to 17) should get at least 8 to 10 hours’ sleep. Establishing good ‘sleep hygiene’ is a must at this age: your child will greatly benefit from a bedtime routine just as much as they did when they were little. Now, though, you should really discuss with your child what a healthy bedtime routine should consist of, with the only rules set in stone that they must get at least the minimum number of hours’ sleep – and be up in good time to get ready for school. A suggested routine might be to allow your child to play on their computer or games console until around 8.30pm and then watch television until 9.30pm. At that point, all screens should be switched off, because the blue light emitted from screens can disrupt the body’s release of natural sleep hormones. You should aim for your child to avoid screen exposure (or bright lights around the house) for 30-60 minutes before sleep. If your child wishes to read until it is time to sleep, try to encourage them to do so in a comfortable chair in their bedroom rather than in their bed, to train their minds to associate bed with actually going to sleep. Your child could then climb into bed at around 10.30pm, and assuming it will take a while for them to get to sleep, an alarm set for 7am would give them sufficient sleep overnight. Another factor to consider is whether they may need a new bed. They probably sleep in a single bed at the moment, which will have been perfectly fine as children. They will grow exponentially over the coming months and years, so consider investing in a larger bed with a supportive, comfortable mattress to improve the quality of their sleep. Take your child with you when shopping for the mattress so that they can try out the feel of the mattress in the showroom (ask them to lie down in their preferred sleeping position). If they are too embarrassed to do this (since pretty much anything embarrasses teens), as a rule of thumb: - Front sleepers need a firm mattress; - Side sleepers need a soft or memory foam mattress; - Back sleepers can have either a firm or soft mattress, depending on personal preference. If your child suffers from allergies, you could consider a latex mattress as opposed to memory or spring mattress. Invest in a decent mattress that will last for at least 8 years, and buy a couple of mattress protectors (one for the bed and one for the wash) to extend the life and protect against accidental spills. Your child may bring you a few sleepless nights during their teenage years, but at least if you prepare them with a decent bedtime routine and provide them with a comfortable bed, they should sleep well.