As children and teens get ready to go back to school, parents should be aware of one essential item that every student needs in his or her school supplies: sleep.
All too often, students are groggy and bleary-eyed when they show up for the first day of class. By the end of a long school day, they may be yawning and fighting to stay awake.
The problem is that students tend to shift their sleep schedule during the lazy days of summer. They stay up late at night and then sleep in late in the morning. So when the first day of school arrives, having to wake up at the crack of dawn can be a shock to the system.
To deal with this problem, sleep experts advise parents to help their children begin to adjust their sleep schedule in the days before school starts.
“It may take days or weeks to develop a new schedule,” said Dr. Daniel Glaze, a pediatric sleep expert and a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine board of directors. “It can’t be done overnight.”
The sooner your child begins, the easier it will be for him or her to adjust. For example your child can go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night for a week. This will be much more effective than if he or she tries to go to bed two hours earlier on the night before school starts.
You also can help your child by dimming the lights earlier in the evening and opening the blinds to let in more sunlight early in the morning. The brain uses these lighting cues to help set the internal “body clock” that regulates sleep patterns.
Another way to help is to adjust other aspects of your daily schedule. Your daily activities should begin to follow the timing of a typical schoolday. The timing of these events helps your child’s body know when it is time to be sleepy and when it is time to be awake.
For example your family may eat dinner much later in the evening during the summer. You can begin to serve this meal at the time when your family tends to eat during the schoolweek.
Once the schoolyear gets started, parents also need to help children and teens maintain a healthy sleep schedule. With most schools starting early in the morning, the challenge is to set a bedtime that will allow your child to get nine to 11 hours of sleep each night.
This challenge is hardest for teens. A biological change in their body clock causes them to feel sleepy later at night. This can make it hard for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. If they have to wake up early in the morning for school, then it may be impossible for them to get the nine hours of sleep they need to feel alert and well rested.
Sleepy students can have a hard time concentrating, remembering information and detecting mistakes. According to pediatric sleep expert Dr. William Kohler, this can affect how a student does in school.
“A student’s performance in the classroom is dictated by the amount of sleep he or she gets the night before,” he said. “A child or teen who regularly gets enough sleep will have improved academic performance.”
Sleep Tips for Students
Sleep & Children
Teens & School Start Times
Teens and Sleep Loss
Your Teen’s Bed Time
Teen Bed Times: Parent Tips
Signs Your Teen Needs Sleep
Reviewed by David Kuhlmann, MD
Updated August 12, 2008