For many children and teens, summer vacation is synonymous with staying up late and sleeping in. Returning to an early morning sleep schedule can be challenging, but it is vital to the health and successful school performance of America's youth. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is calling on parents and students to start adjusting their sleep schedules now, in order to be well-rested and alert for the start of the school year.
"Although it's tempting to sleep as late as possible during the remaining days of summer, it's not necessarily the best strategy for starting the school year off right," says Richard L. Gelula, NSF's chief executive officer. "In fact, a lack of sleep seriously affects academic performance, mood and a teenager's ability to drive safely."
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2004 and 2006 Sleep in America polls, children and teens overall do not get enough sleep. School-aged children get an average of 1.5 hours less than the recommended 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night on school nights, and only 20 percent of adolescents get the recommended 9 hours of sleep per night on school nights. In fact, nearly half of all adolescents sleep less than eight hours on school nights.
“Maintaining a consistent schedule, which provides for plenty of sleep, will help students adjust to the return of busy school days,” says Mary Carskadon, PhD, director of the E.P. Bradley Hospital Sleep and Chronobiology Research Lab at Brown University professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown Medical School. “Irregular sleep patterns negatively affect students’ biological clocks and sleep quality -- which in turn affects their ability to perform well in school and their moods.”
Tips for getting your child’s sleep schedule back on track:
1. Several weeks to a month before the start of school, set a limit for the latest bedtime and wake up time. Then gradually move these times earlier (about 15 minutes every other day, time permitting) as the school year starts to approach.
2. Soak in summer's last days with early mornings rather than late nights. Emphasize activity and bright light in the morning: go outside and take a walk or play with friends, don’t sit indoors or in front of the television.
3. Be Consistent! Set and keep a bedtime and wake-up schedule even on weekends, this will help in the adjustment to an earlier school schedule.
A lack of sleep affects all aspects of a child or teen’s life:
1. Children who get less than eight hours of sleep are more likely than their peers who get optimal sleep to get lower grades.
2. At least once a week, 28 percent of high school students report falling asleep in school, 22 percent report falling asleep while doing homework, and 14 percent report arriving late or missing school entirely because they oversleep.
3. 73 percent of those adolescents who report feeling unhappy, sad, or depressed also report not getting enough sleep at night and being excessively sleepy during the day.
4. More than half of all adolescents report feeling sleepy during the school day.
5. While 35 percent of middle school students report getting an optimal amount of sleep on school nights, only 9 percent of high school students do.
The National Sleep Foundation’s 2006 Sleep in America poll also shows an awareness gap among parents of adolescents. While more than half of adolescents reported not getting the sleep they need, 90 percent percent of parents felt that their adolescent was getting enough sleep. Parents should know that all children – even teenagers – need more sleep than adults. For younger kids, having bedtime routines such as reading with parents can result in better and longer sleep. For older kids, having a set bedtime is associated with an increased likelihood of getting optimal sleep and a decreased likelihood of feeling too tired or sleepy during the day.
Sleep tips that will help kids start the school year off right:
1. Maintain a regular bedtime – keeping the same sleep schedule makes it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.
2. Establish a sleep routine – avoid exercising or doing anything too intellectually stimulating in the last couple of hours before going to bed.
3. Create a good sleep environment – cool, dark, quiet and comfortable.
4. Limit caffeine, especially after lunchtime.
5. Turn off the TV. Flickering light and distributing content can prevent good sleep. And, adolescents with four or more such items in their bedrooms were more likely than their peers to get an insufficient amount of sleep at night and almost twice as likely to fall asleep in school and while doing homework.
Tips for Parents:
1. Be a good role model and get the recommended amount of sleep each night.
2. Recognize that children – even teenagers - need more sleep than adults.
3. Talk to your kids about the importance of sleep and make sleep a priority for the entire family.
4. Ask teachers if your child is sleepy or sleeping during class.
5. Adolescents with set bedtimes before 10:00 pm are much more likely to get an optimal amount of sleep than those who don't.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving greater understanding of sleep and sleep disorders. NSF furthers its mission through sleep-related education, research, and advocacy initiatives. NSF’s membership includes researchers and clinicians focused on sleep medicine as well as other professionals in the health/medical/science fields, individuals, and more than 800 sleep clinics throughout North America that join the Foundation’s Community Sleep Awareness Partners program. For more information, log onto www.sleepfoundation.org or www.sleepforkids.org.
This story originally appeared in the Aug. 2008 print edition of ParentMap.