Child and Adolescent psychologist Dr Sinéad Devine-French joined us from specialist wellbeing organisation Positive, who work across the GDST on improving the health, wellbeing and performance of individuals and organisations through applied psychology and neuroscience.
Child and Adolescent psychologist Dr Sinéad Devine-French joined us from specialist wellbeing organisation Positive, who work across the GDST on improving the health, wellbeing and performance of individuals and organisations through applied psychology and neuroscience. Dr Devine-French’s presentation covered the benefits of good sleep for ourselves and our children, and the importance of calibrating our everyday lives to prioritise it.
Parents will be familiar with the image of the teenager who sleeps past midday and goes to bed in the small hours. Teenagers’ sleep patterns change as they progress through childhood and puberty, but with good reason. ‘It’s an evolutionary ploy,’ explains Dr Devine-French. ‘It encourages independence and separation from parents as the child approaches adulthood.’ This said, she continues, we are the only species who will intentionally deprive ourselves of sleep: we need to learn to better prioritise the demands of our social lives, our work, and our family commitments so as not to compromise on sleep.
“Tailor your day to get the best out of your chronotype: there is no point forcing someone to be a lark if they are naturally a night owl”
But why is this so important? ‘Sleep recalibrates our emotional circuits, revitalises our immune system, and enhances our ability to focus, and, in the case of our children, to study,’ Dr Devine-French explains by way of an introduction to the topic. Physiologically, psychologically, emotionally, we cannot overstate the role that sleep plays in keeping us healthy and functioning optimally: ‘sleep is the one thing we should not be compromising on.’
As exam season approaches, albeit in a different guise this year post Covid, and some young people are tempted to stay up all night to study, Dr Devine-French offers words of caution and advice involving getting to bed at a decent time. Sleeping after learning is like hitting the ‘save’ button, she explains, telling us that ‘sleep allows for consolidation, as the relevant information is transferred to long term memory. A young person who pulls an all nighter will experience a 40% deficit in their ability to learn the next day.’
“Sleeping after learning is like hitting the ‘save’ button”
Although it may seem an obvious point to make, sleep also enhances our physical wellbeing, with a clear link between good sleep and a robust immune system. If we routinely get less than 7 hours per night we are more likely to catch a cold. Indeed, never before has this been more important to note: ‘vaccines are less effective if you are not sleeping well,’ points out Dr Devine-French, ‘so if you are getting your Covid jab soon, prioritise your sleep in the week beforehand to enhance the robustness of your immune system and the effectiveness of the vaccine.’
Sleep is essential for healthy emotional regulation too, and there is a strong correlation between poor sleep and mood disorders. There’s science behind why we tell people to ‘sleep on it’ to gain perspective and reframe an upsetting situation. Dr Devine-French explains that when we are sleep-deprived, the amygdala – the fear system in our brain which scans the world for threat – becomes more active. After a bad night’s sleep, we find ourselves in a higher state of alert, less able to keep things in perspective and more susceptible to negative emotions. Our Prefrontal Cortex – the seat of executive function, the ability to regulate, be logical and rational – is what quietens the amygdala…except when we don’t sleep. ‘A good sleep wipes away emotional turmoil, reboots and regulates us,’ Dr Devine-French elaborates.
“Sleep recalibrates our emotional circuits, revitalises our immune system, and enhances our ability to focus”
Having established the overwhelmingly positive impact that good sleeping habits have on allround wellbeing, how on earth do we persuade our adolescent daughters to go to bed? Well, it is important to take chronotype into account: that is, our natural preference for when we sleep over a 24 hour period. ‘There is no point forcing someone to be a lark if they are naturally a night owl,’ says Dr Devine-French, so we need to tailor our days. This might mean planning around evening sporting commitments and social engagements for example, to compensate. Young people have to be motivated to take steps like exercising regularly, getting to bed earlier and stepping back from social media before bedtime, all of which have a positive impact on sleep and wellbeing.
For more tips for helping your young person to establish good sleep routines, including dealing with issues such as nightmares, the effect of anxiety, and how to build better sleep habits, you can watch Dr Devine-French’s talk below, available until 24th June.
Working with Positive, students from schools across the GDST family have access to a number of different tools to aid their emotional regulation, in turn helping their sleep hygiene. These include:
The Emotional Barometer: a visual metaphor tool designed to display and track your moodstate over time. It gives insight into our emotions – how they affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviour – and provides us with a basis for developing emotional literacy.
The Positive Switch: a tool designed to make you more aware of your focus and your attentional capacity. The idea is that you have a switch in your mind which can be moved between three different positions: task; charging; present. All three settings bring their own potential wellbeing benefits; the Positive Switch tool helps you to make use of these different modes, adapting your routines to get the best from your brain.
The Worry Filter: a tool to help us to differentiate between useful and useless worries and increases our resilience, decreasing our immediate or chronic stress response. It helps us declutter, organise and focus our minds, freeing up cognitive resources, increasing creativity. Having the ability to manage and control our attention also enables us to bounce back quicker from challenging times
For more information about the Positive toolkit, please contact your daughter’s school.