Struggling With Stress? Try Sleeping on It by Sara Westgreen

When you get stressed out, everything seems a lot harder to deal with - from the source of the stress to having to cook dinner. That’s because stress actually does make it harder to deal with everything, as does a lack of sleep.

Lack of sleep is so common in young adults thanks to the large amounts of schoolwork, social activities and extracurricular activities. One study found that 7.5 percent of adolescents met the criteria to be diagnosed with a clinical mental health condition and that those problems were also exacerbated by the lack of sleep.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that study participants who only got 4.5 hours of sleep a night for a week reported feeling “stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted.”

However, they were able to turn that around after only a week of getting a full night’s sleep. Since more than 35 percent of American adults and approximately 67 percent of high schoolers don’t get a full night’s sleep, we are all probably a little more stressed than we need to be, and  lack of sleep can be making people significantly more stressed.

This is especially important to recognize when it comes to young people; like the preteens in your life.

A 2013 study that was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that just after a few days with a little bit shorter sleep, teens’ ability to regulate their negative emotions decreased significantly and they had a pretty bad mood in general, generally because of the lack of sleep.

This makes their stress significantly harder to deal with, and it makes it easier for them to become stressed if they aren’t already.

If you or the preteen in your life is struggling to fix problems that are complicated and stressful, it’s recommended that they sleep on it. Sometimes, even a nap will do.

Not only are naps great for boosting your problem-solving skills, but they also give you a boost of energy while you’re trying to finish a project.

A 1993 Harvard study found that half of the people who asked themselves the question before bed were able to dream about the question and find a solution that seemed reasonable for their problem. Plus, those few extra minutes of sleep can actually help your preteen function better in the long run.

However, stress can also keep you from sleeping, so it turns into a bit of a cycle where you are stressed because you haven’t gotten any sleep and then you don’t get any sleep because you are stressed.

Tips to Help Your Preteen Destress & Sleep Better:

Have them keep a regular bedtime whenever possible

This may not make you a cool parent, but it will make the preteen in your life feel a whole lot better.

Allow naps after school

If your child knows that they are going to have a late night, make some time for an afternoon nap to replace the sleep that they’ll be losing later that evening. This will give them a burst of energy and keep them out of the caffeine.

Schedule time in for de-stressing activities like yoga, meditation or reading

Make sure that there is some time in their day that is purposefully left alone for non-stressful activities. Something like yoga or meditation could be great for your preteen’s psyche and mental health. It can also help them solve the problems that they are stressing over without focusing on them.

Let them vent to you about their problems

If the preaching in your life is having some problems, let them vent to you. You might not have a solution, and that’s okay. Just listening and acknowledging their struggle can help them with the stress of the problem.

Help them re-organize their room to be more comfortable

Take a look around their bedroom and asked them what usually distracts them when they are trying to sleep - is their bed uncomfortable? Does light leak in through the window? Is their phone distraction? Help them to rearrange or reduce the distractions in their room to help them get a good night’s sleep whenever possible.

Talk to a doctor

If your child is struggling to sleep for more than a week straight, talk to a doctor. There may be an underlying cause that you don’t know about that a doctor could diagnose and solve.

If you notice that your whole family is struggling to sleep well, check your carbon monoxide detector and make sure that it’s functioning properly.

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Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.