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Make My Teenager Sleep

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Karen Miller Karen Miller | 10:18 UK time, Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Clare English presents Make My Teenager Sleep on BBC Radio Scotland, Wednesday 30 September at 1130. She told us a little about her experiences as the mother of a teenager and about the pilot scheme undertaken by the charity Sleep Scotland.

When I was fourteen I had a nodding acquaintance with lurid blue eyeshadow, a bad haircut and a tendency to head off to bed around 10pm (ok, 10.30pm, latest, during the school week.) No big deal really as the tv schedule was winding down for the night - these were the dark days before 24/7 viewing.

Flip forward three decades and I find myself in a bittersweet position with a fourteen year old daughter. On the face of it, Roma's world is much more exciting by comparison. For starters, she's got so much technology in her room that she might be carrying out covert ops for MI6. What I know she IS doing, is chatting ... endlessly to her mates from school and the neighbourhood, on MSN, Facebook, Skype, or mobile phone. This is life for today's average teen; they expect to be hooked up to their peers around the clock, but some are suffering at school because of it.

Teachers are noticing more and more of their pupils are slumped lifelessly in front of them in class, there's a lack of engagement. Could it be that their nocturnal socialising is getting on top of them? Well, yes, apparently there is a problem and it's been identified by a charity called Sleep Scotland an organisation which helps families and young people whose sleep routines have gone off the rails, to get them back under control. They've been working with individual families for many years, and have now taken their experience into secondary school classrooms for a pilot scheme.

The first I heard of it was from my "science brain" producer, Anne; she knew I had a teenage daughter and thought I might find the research interesting. These people were suggesting something radical and yet so obvious we had to find out more. And so we duly decided to shadow the team as they visited St Paul's secondary school in Pollock, on the south side of Glasgow. Could they persuade a class full of sceptical teenagers to try going to bed early? A tall order - but they had scientific research on their side. Did these young people realise that by getting nine hours sleep a night, not three or four, they could improve their attention span, retention of information, energy levels, looks, mood? Put like that, sleep suddenly sounded like an attractive proposition...

The class listened politely - but was any of the advice sinking in? As you can hear in the programme, they got the theory. But it wasn't until they put the theory to the test that that they REALLY got it.

After a radical three consecutive nights of good long sleep, the pupils were converted. They felt happier, cleverer, better-looking, more energetic ...and were even being nicer around the house.

Now, sleep might not seem like the coolest thing to concentrate on when you are in your teens - we tend to put more emphasis on the anti-drink and drugs message - but based on our experience in St Paul's, it seems that when it translates into tangible benefits like looking good or performing tasks better, teens start paying attention. Our guinea pigs (hope they don't mind being called that) were so impressed they vowed to keep going to bed at a decent time during the school week. As for the weekend? Well, let's be realistic... can you really expect them to give that up too?

I've been amazed by what I've seen at St Pauls. In a few days, a dramatic change in the way the pupils felt about themselves and saw themselves. If you could bottle that optimism, you'd be a millionaire. Bizarre then to think it's all down to something that doesn't cost a penny!

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