Exams + sleep + energy drinks = teenage nightmare
It's not insomnia if you can't sleep the week or night before an exam. It's called sleep deprivation. And it needs a different solution to insomnia.
- Can you reverse sleep deprivation ? No
- Can you help your teenager during the day to improve their mental and physical well being ? Yes
More than likely it's not that students have insomnia. They have simply prioritised studying over sleep.
Things that won’t work for lots of teenagers. A list of “helpful” sleep tips won’t work.
- Tell them not to have caffeine before bed - as they are guzzling energy drinks
- Tell them to make sure they get a walk in early for sunlight - as they are snoring like beasts and need the few hours of sleep they can get
- Tell them to tidy their room because a clear room = clear mind. Yes I can see how that would go down with a stressed teenager.
So what CAN you do? And how can you help? Here are a few questions that you might be able to relate to and share with your exam stressed humans.
“My child is not sleeping enough, drinking too much caffeine and seems stressed, how can I help?”
They are stressed. You’re probably stressed and not sleeping well either. They need to stay awake in the evening to study and yes they won’t sleep as much. You can
- Give them the facts - better sleep the night before an exam and weeks before exams will make memory consolidation and memory recall better. So things you study can stay in your head and when you are in the exam you will be able to remember them faster to answer if you sleep.
- Reduce caffeine consumption (if they can’t or don’t metabolise caffeine well (hyper and can't sleep when they want) You can share that caffeine isn't needed when you are stressed. They might be drinking it out of habit. Adrenaline and stress will already keep you awake. So even one less can or cup won't make them tired when they want to study but could make them less jittery and anxious. This can make it easier to retain information and stay calm. Energy drinks have been banned in the UK for under 16s. This was not taken lightly. Don't let the Prime Logan Paul and KSI owned drink fool you. These drinks are not safe for children.
- Make it gross. Too much caffeine and energy drinks over a few weeks can give digestion problems. In addition to the sleep problems. Not cool or useful for exams.
For you to know. It's helpful to know the difference between insomnia and sleep deprivation. Insomnia is at least not sleeping for 3 nights a week for 3 months and you feel tired during the day. Go to your GP if this is the case.
If it's sleep deprivation, take comfort that it's not insomnia and they will mostly figure it out when the exams are over.
“My child is desperate to sleep but too stressed and then they stress over not sleeping”
This is what I call the worry sleep loop. It's so easy to say “stop worrying” and so hard to do. Entire focus here should be on relaxation and getting out of their mind.
The parent or guardian should check the sleep hygiene basics but I would suggest don't draw attention to all this detail. They have enough on their mind. (And it can cause more worry and less sleep)
- Look at sleep hygiene and their sleep environment.
- Is their room dark enough? Get an eye mask or black out curtains
- Is it quiet enough? Ear plugs useful
- Is it cool enough? Check the tog number on the duvets
- Ensure NO tech in the bedroom after a specific time. Less about blue light and more about trying to calm an active mind
- Don't eat right before bed
- Clean sheets do help calm the mind
- Clear room of clutter
- When they can't sleep - Sensory solutions are super handy to move from mind to body. Get up and do star jumps. Anything to quickly taken the mind off the fact that you can't sleep
- Weighted sleepers - we know it's our product and we are happily biassed but they bring great comfort and can reduce anxiety to make sleeping easier. Choose the soft range in the body length or short.
- Write it down - help them write down why they can't sleep and then it moves out of their mind onto the page
- Melatonin is not the answer to pre exam sleep deprivation stress - it is primarily a circadian rhythm sleep disorder medication eg: jet lag. Pre exam sleep stress is not part of this. Children who take melatonin often fall asleep more easily but can wake up more and get lower quality sleep. Look at the recent Jama Network study in the US. It is being over used for the wrong reasons and it is not needed for healthy children.
If you think they will listen to the sleep basics, here is a 24 hr before an exam - Exam Sleep routine
All about calming a racing mind.
- Go for a walk, cycle or jog early in the morning (before 11). Sunlight is key for your circadian rhythm
- Drink lots of water hydration essential for sleep
- Tell them to do something they love to do - video games, running, shopping cooking whatever it is for at least an hour
- Eat the food you love. Feeling happy and fulfilled is crucial to remain calm. It's not the day to start a new food routine.
- Watch a movie you loved before or read a book you loved before - this sense of nostalgia is calming and comforting for humans.
- A teddy or blanket is still used by so many teenagers. This is another reason our sleepers are so popular with stressed teenagers and children. They provide comfort in a scientific and emotional way.
Let us know your sleep tips before exams and what works for your children.
I'm Síne Dunne and your sleep matters to me.
Síne is the founder of Siest sleep, inventor of the sleeper and a student of short sleep modules at the University of Oxford. Síne is not a medical practitioner and there is a huge difference between a sleep disorder and pre exam sleep issues. Always talk to your doctor if your sleep is bad for more than 3 nights a week for more than 3 months and if it affects your day time life quality. Also always question your GP if they prescribe a sleeping pill or melatonin and ask for a clear plan for when you will stop taking the pills. Sleeping pills are currently over prescribed globally and never recommended for long term use.