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Published on August 15, 2012

From Zzz’s to A’s: Healthy Sleep is Key for
Back-to-School Success

National Sleep Foundation and Avera Sacred Heart Sleep Diagnostics Lab urge parents and kids to make sleep a priority during the school year and offer tips for back-to-school sleep schedules.

By Abby Goeken, RPSGT, EEGT
Avera Sacred Heart Sleep Diagnostics Lab
Information provided by the National Sleep Foundation

As the new school year approaches, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) and Avera Sacred Heart Sleep Diagnostics Lab encourage parents and kids to put healthy sleep on the list of back-to-school necessities. NSF and Avera Sacred Heart Sleep Diagnostics recommend gradually adjusting sleep schedules now in order to be alert and energized as well as to assure optimal learning, participation and health.

“Kids tend to sleep and wake up later during the summer, making the transition to the school year sleep schedule difficult,” explains NSF CEO Richard Gelula. “As tempting as it is to enjoy sleeping late in the final days of summer break, getting up earlier for school will be much easier if kids begin adjusting their sleep schedules now.

Going to bed as little as 15 minutes earlier each night until the desired “school’s-in bedtime” is achieved will help start a new schedule.

All children - even adolescents - need more sleep than adults.  According to NSF most kids in the U.S. do not get the amount of sleep experts recommend.  Children need 9 to 10 hours and teenagers 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night.  Optimal sleep is essential to children’s health, safety and academic performance. The study also found that kids who do not sleep well are more likely to have behavioral problems and face academic challenges. 

“Adequate sleep is just as important to kids’ health and well-being as diet and exercise,” says Daniel Lewin, Ph.D., director of the Pediatric Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “Inadequate sleep can lead to attention and mood problems in children and sleepiness increases the likelihood of drowsy driving crashes, which are particularly common among drivers aged 25 and younger. Adequate sleep also facilitates learning and improves memory, both vital to improving academic performance as well as optimizing participation in social and athletic activities.” 

Parents may also find themselves unprepared for the sleep challenges that the new school year brings.  Many parents need to wake up earlier in order to pack lunches, drive their kids to school or help them get to the bus stop on time.  This is particularly true of mothers, many of whom are already sleep-deprived.  NSF’s 2007 Sleep in America poll revealed that 60 percent of women in the U.S. report only getting a good night’s sleep a few nights a week or less, leaving them time-pressed, stressed-out and too tired for romance and spending time with their friends.  Adults should try and achieve 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

NSF and the Avera Sacred Heart Sleep Diagnostics Lab recommend these sleep tips to help parents and children start the school year strong:

  • Gradually adjust to earlier sleep and wake schedules 7-10 days before school begins.  This will set biological clocks to the new schedule.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule and avoid extremes on weekends. Having a regular bedtime increases the likelihood that kids - including teens - will get optimal sleep.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Reading before bed is a good choice for kids of all ages and for parents.
  • Create a sleep environment that is cool, quiet, dimly lit and comfortable.
  • Keep television, video games and other electronics out of the bedroom. NSF’s Sleep in America poll revealed that having electronic devices is associated with an increased risk of falling asleep in class and while doing homework. Eliminate exposure to electronic media (television, video, and computer games, etc) within an hour of bedtime.
  • Limit caffeine, especially after lunchtime.
  • Eat well and exercise.

NSF also found an awareness gap between kids and their parents. While more than half of adolescents reported not getting the sleep they need, 90 percent of the parents felt that their adolescent was getting enough sleep. Parents should talk to their children about their sleep and seek help for any sleep problems that may arise.

Here are more sleep-smart tips from NSF and Avera Sacred Heart Sleep Diagnostic Lab for parents:

  • Be an example.  By practicing good sleep habits, your kids are less likely to adopt bad ones.
  • Talk to your kids about the importance of healthy sleep and the consequences of sleepiness, including drowsy driving.
  • Recognize that children - including teens - need more sleep than adults.
  • Children who have difficulty waking in the morning on more than 3 days a week or who snore may not be getting adequate sleep.
  • Establish a one-hour “electronic-free” time before bedtime.
  • Ask teachers whether your child is alert or sleepy during class and take steps to improve your child’s sleep if you feel that he or she may have a sleep problem.