Nicola Morgan’s book on the teenage brain, Blame My Brain – The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed, has been popular and praised ever since first publication in 2005. It’s been translated into several languages and reprinted many times. Now there’s a revised edition, updated with new research and with a new cover. Nicola is an award-winning teenage novelist as well as a non-fiction writer for all ages, and she’s also been commissioned to write CHILL – The Teenage Guide to Stress.
Today I’m thrilled to welcome author Nicola Morgan to my blog as part of her mini tour to celebrate the publication of the revised edition of Blame My Brain, she’s kindly agreed to answer a few questions about sleep – a topic close to my heart.
As someone who has always had issues with sleeping I found this section of Blame My Brain particularly interesting. I was wondering if you could start by briefly explaining to my readers why teenagers’ sleep patterns are different?
There are two differences, though we don’t know really the reasons for either of them. First, adolescents have been shown to need, biologically, on average, 9.25 hours sleep a night, more than adults (and more than 9-11yo children). Second, melatonin (the chemical that regulates sleep/wakefulness) seems to have adult patterns. So teenagers feel sleepy at about the same time as adults and yet need more sleep than they will naturally get on a school day. So: greater sleep needs but not enough hours of sleep in a term-time routine.
You mention in the book that some schools in America have changed their start time to suit teenagers’ sleep patterns better, do you think this is something more schools and colleges should be considering?
Actually, this has been tried in the UK, too. The results seem to show improved concentration, wakefulness, mood, attendance and behaviour. However, there are also disadvantages to starting later: it doesn’t suit working parents, especially parents of teenagers who need to be supervised to get to school… And it has a negative effect on attendance at after-school activities, because pupils want to get home. There may be knock-on effects for homework, too. (There is a great article here, giving examples.) I think schools should consider the possibilities but they may decide that it won’t work for their pupils, staff and parents, as a whole. In that case, I’d urge adults to understand the special issues for teenagers regarding sleep, and focus on improving sleep in other ways.
What can teenagers do to make the most of their sleep?
- First, they have to want to!
- Realise that new sleep patterns are biological but that there are things anyone can do, at any age, to improve sleep. And just an extra 20 minutes can make a real difference.
- The aim is to trick the brain into thinking it’s later at night than it is: close curtains early, turn down lights, slow music, warmth, wind down, create a routine that tells the brain, “Here comes bed.” In the morning, get someone to switch on your lights and open your curtains! (Sorry…)
- It does make sense to have a lie-in at the weekend, but not more than a couple of hours, otherwise your body clock gets more confused.
- There are loads of tips on my website – here – and they work!
And what can parents do to help?
Understand things that help or hinder going to sleep and remember that no one can just go to sleep because they’ve been told to; we need to feel sleepy, and teenagers won’t feel sleepy before adults, biologically. Again, my website has loads of tips. Research suggests that “parent-led bedtimes” have a positive effect. However, teenagers can feel nagged about this, which will be counter-productive. It needs to be negotiated in advance, with the teenager understanding that it will help health, happiness, growth, memory and learning. Parents have a great role to play in providing the framework and knowledge – but no one can make a teenager sleep and if you push too hard you’ll get nowhere! But if parents understand about sleep, they can play a very helpful supporting role.
And if any parents or teenagers want to ask me anything, ask away!
Thank you Nicola for these really interesting answers, I’ve certainly learnt a lot.
Thanks so much again for inviting me here.
There’s a fun Blame My Brain competition running on Nicola’s blog at the moment with opportunities for schools and individuals of any age to win books, have their questions answered and learn about the fascinating thing that is the teenage brain!