Feeling shortchanged in the sleep department? You’re not alone. Everything from work and television, to computers, video games, and mobile phones keeps us awake, as do bouts of insomnia. Ditto for our kids.
Did you know that, when it comes to sleep, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says that . . .
• Infants need 14 to 15 hours
• Toddlers need 12 to 14 hours
• Pre-Schoolers need 11 to 13 hours
• Grade-School Children need 10 to 11 hours
• Teenagers need 9 to 10 hours
And speaking of teens, according to the National Sleep Foundation, only about 20% of them get the requisite nine hours of sleep a night.
One big reason: they stay up late—and not necessarily by choice.
Apparently, a shift in the sleep-wake cycle during adolescence causes teens to fall asleep around 11:00 p.m.—and, thus, need to sleep later, too.
Then there’s the school clock. Despite the fact that teens naturally stay up later, in most cases our middle and high schools have them at their desks well before their younger siblings who naturally awaken earlier in the morning.
For instance, here in Montgomery County, at Upper Dublin High School, classes begin at 7:28 a.m., and at Methacton’s Arcola Intermediate School, the day begins at 8:05 in the morning. In other words, no sleeping in, no catching up on much-needed zzz’s.
And that’s a real problem.
You see, teens experience their deepest sleep around dawn—interrupted on school mornings by a sounding alarm clock, hasty breakfast, and dash for the school bus, all usually well before sunrise.
Associate director of the Sleep Disorders Program at Boston’s Children’s Hospital Dennis Rosen says, “There’s more and more information showing insufficient sleep affects cognitive ability, and emotional, and physical well-being.”
In other words, sleep-deprived teens all-too-often experience:
• Weight gain
• Lower grades
• Behavior problems
• Drug and alcohol abuse
And, as if that’s not enough, studies demonstrate that sleep deprivation and car crashes are related. For example, an Eastern Virginia Medical School study looked at two communities, one with a school start time of 7:20 a.m. and another that started at 8:40 a.m. What they discovered: crash rates were 41% higher in the former.
Biological clocks being what they are, getting your teenager to bed down early might be easier said than done, but not impossible.
1. Once home from school and after a healthy snack–think peanut butter-smeared apple– have your teen start in on homework right away, starting with the hardest subject first and so on.
2. Make sleep a priority, encouraging a reasonable bedtime hour.
3. Help her/him establish a relaxing bedtime routine, such as a shower, light snack, and a bit of reading.
4. Remember, too, that bedrooms are for sleeping—not computing, texting, chatting, or watching television. Plus light of any kind, such as from a glowing computer screen, makes falling asleep tougher, so keep the computer and TV downstairs. Ditto for the mobile phone once it’s lights out time.
As Ben Franklin noted so long ago, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man, healthy, wealthy, and wise.” And a student ready to learn.
And while you’re at it, urge your school district to rethink its bell schedule, bringing it in line with the needs of its students, not the adults, so that the little ones head to the bus stop long before their older siblings.