August 08, 2018
It’s easy to fall into a summer vacation rhythm that includes late nights and sleeping in mornings—after all, that’s one of summer relaxing pleasures. However, when back-to-school time rolls around it’s important for students to readjust their sleep schedules to ensure that they get adequate sleep during the week.
It’s common knowledge that elementary age kids need more sleep than adults, but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine also recommends 8-10 hours of sleep per night for older kids ages 13 to 18, which also encompasses middle and high school and college. Unfortunately, competing demands on teens’ time (such as homework, extracurricular activities, and technology) can make it difficult to prioritize getting enough sleep. In addition, adolescents’ natural circadian rhythms undergo a shift that drives them to stay up and wake up later, which can be a challenge to balance with early class times. A recent study out of Minnesota showed that a staggering 43% of eighth graders were not getting the minimum recommended amount of sleep each night, and this percentage went up for students in higher grades. Nevertheless, sleep plays a crucial role in supporting physical health and cognitive ability, so it’s especially important to ensure that students are getting enough quality rest.
One way to set back-to-school students up for success is to gradually move bedtimes earlier as the summer comes to a close. Instead of shocking their systems with a sudden change, start them going to bed a little bit earlier each night beginning a couple weeks before the start of classes. Above all, try to maintain consistency of bed and waking times (yes, even on the weekends), as getting into a rhythm helps the body know when to get sleepy and wake up. Both of these tips can help both students and their parents transition more easily to healthy school year sleep schedules.
It can also help to institute a “quiet time” period before bed (something that has benefited our founder since her two sons were toddlers). Setting aside an hour or two for quiet, passive activities can help the mind settle down and creates a positive routine that can trigger sleepiness. Above all, try to avoid electronic devices during this period, as the blue light they emit can suppress the body’s natural production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. It might be a bit challenging to set a media curfew at first, but these have proven successful at optimizing students’ ability to sleep well and lowering their stress levels, even at elite schools such as Eton. One thing that can help is having parents model good sleep hygiene by adhering to the curfew themselves.
For college students, naps may also be an option for supplementing nighttime sleep, and they can have additional benefits as well. So much so that some colleges are introducing dedicated nap rooms for students who want to catch a few winks during the day. Others, including the Rochester Institute of Technology, and the University of Texas provide “nap maps” so that students can find the best designated spaces for sleep on campus.
No matter how your family re-adjusts to school-time sleep schedules, the most important thing is to be mindful of how important this activity is for students success and well being. Help your students treat themselves to a great academic year by forming good habits now!
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