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This content is taken from the University of Reading's online course, COVID-19: Helping Young People Manage Low Mood and Depression. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsGetting a good night's sleep is really important for our daily functioning. But as with other aspects of our life, sleep is vulnerable to stress and it can be hard to sleep when we are feeling stressed. Now, there are two processes involved in helping us sleep. The first one is called our circadian rhythm. And our circadian rhythm is essentially our body clock. So our body knows what time we should be going to bed and what time we should be waking up in the morning. The other process is what we call sleep homeostasis. Now, this is the pressure that builds up throughout the day to help make us feel tired in the evening and ready for bed.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 secondsDuring our teenage years, these processes alter slightly. And what happens is teenagers tend to not feel tired until later in the evening than they would've done in their earlier teenage years or childhood years. Now, the result in this is that teenagers might go to bed and find it hard to fall asleep when they would like to be going to bed. And they can lie there awake for a while. And this is the case for many teenagers across the world. Now, when we're feeling stressed or worried, falling asleep can be even harder. And what happens is when we're feeling stressed, we often have thoughts racing through our mind. We might be overthinking things. Our routines might be out of sync.

Skip to 1 minute and 24 secondsSo we might be doing things a bit differently and our body might feel a bit confused. So when we go to bed and we're lying there thinking about all these things have been going on, it can interfere with us falling asleep. Now, what often happens then is, the next day, we might feel groggy or agitated or we might find it hard to concentrate. And this could start to turn into a bit more vicious cycle. So the next night, we might really want to go to bed. We might go to bed a bit earlier, trying to catch up on our sleep. But again, we might lie there awake, not able to fall asleep and worrying again.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsAnd as this cycle continues, it can get harder and harder to fall asleep, the more desperate we become to try to fall asleep. So in these times where things are quite stressful or perhaps more stressful than normal, it's going to be really important to take good care of our sleep to try and prevent these cycles from happening. And preventing these cycles will really help to support our mood and our well-being during these times.

Good sleeping habits

Watch Dr Faith Orchard explain some of the processes involved in sleep, and how these can be affected when we’re feeling low.

Sleep is hugely important for both our physical and mental health, and teenagers in particular are vulnerable to sleeping difficulties, due to changes in their biology. During these times of social distancing and social isolation, you may have found your sleep habits have changed or become even more challenging.

Sleep tips

It’s important to establish a good routine and habits around sleeping and bedtime. As much as possible, go to sleep, wake up and get out of bed at the same times each day. It’s tempting to sleep in for much longer or stay up much later when we don’t need to go to school or be at other places. However, this will play havoc with your biological clock and can eventually make it much more difficult to get good sleep.

Another tip is to make sure your bedroom is associated with sleeping and not with being awake and active.

This might be difficult at the moment if you’re restricted to being at home, where you might be living closely with a number of family members. If you’re able to spend time in other parts of the house, try and treat your bedroom as an important sleep environment. If this isn’t possible, set up a comfy beanbag or blanket in your bedroom to help you avoid doing all of your activities in bed. We’ve highlighted a range of other helpful techniques that can improve sleep below.

An inforgraphic divided into square sections that list the following tips: 
Beds are made for sleeping: Avoid using your bed for anything but sleeping.  Watch films, check your phone and so on somewhere else. Use a desk or table to do your  homework, and if you can, in another room.
Avoid bright lights: Give yourself a cut off to stop using any electronics (such as mobile phone, TV, tablet) before going to bed, for example, 30 minutes. Keep all your screens in a different room so you’re not tempted to look at them in bed.  
Prepare for sleep: Set up a relaxing bedtime routine and atmosphere for yourself. Hear are some tips: Have some ‘quiet time’  before going to bed Dim the lights Have a warm bath Read a book Listen to quiet music Use comfortable bedding Wear comfortable pyjamas. Set a good temperature in your room 
Avoid caffeine: Cut down on caffeine. Food and drink such as soft drinks, chocolate, coffee, tea contain large amounts of caffeine making it harder to sleep.
Stay physically active: Exercise will encourage night-time sleepiness. You can combine your exposure to daylight with some daily exercise. For example: Pick a room that gets good daylight to exercise Follow an online exercise course   Practice yoga in your garden  Go for a cycle, walk or jog close to where you live.
Getting up: Setting an alarm clock will encourage you to get up. Consider using a traditional alarm clock/radio alarm rather than relying on your phone alarm. Remember, you’re trying to avoid taking any mobile devices to bed with you.  
Distract yourself: If you find it difficult to fall asleep and/or you’re tossing and turning, try going to a different room to distract yourself for 15 minutes with a quiet activity (such as reading) before returning to bed. If you don’t fall asleep - repeat the process.
Be OK with it: Try not to worry about sleeping well. Accept that it isn’t good at the moment, but you have lots of ideas for improvements.
Reset your internal clock: Try and get as much daylight as you can. In the morning, draw back your curtains to let the natural light in. Daylight stimulates serotonin (a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles) and helps to reset your internal clock.

This article draws on material from our Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People course, where we explore adolescent sleep and sleep intervention in more detail. The course starts on 1 June.

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COVID-19: Helping Young People Manage Low Mood and Depression

University of Reading