National Sleep Foundation Urges Parents to IncludeEnough Time for Sleep in New School Year Schedule

The start of the new school year can have a major impact on children of all ages, especially adolescents, who can lose as much as two hours of sleep on weeknights.  

Because of the unique changes in circadian rhythms that occur during adolescence, teens have special sleep challenges.  Their "phase delay" causes teens to feel alert late into the night resulting in a delay in falling asleep.  In the mornings, their body clocks clash with their alarm clocks; they want to sleep later, but must get up early for school.  It is not unusual for teens to be sleepy in their early morning classes; a far more dangerous situation occurs when sleepy teens get into their cars and drive to those classes.

"When children and young adults don't get enough sleep, it can affect their behavior as well as their performance in school and their social and recreational activities," says Lee Brown, M.D., Executive Director, and UNM-Health Sciences Center Program in Sleep Medicine.   "The results can include bad moods, impaired motor function, delayed reaction time, and diminished mental functioning."

A good night's sleep is as important to children as a healthy breakfast for best school performance, says the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).   According to NSF, too many school-age children get less sleep than experts recommend about 9.25 hours/night for teens, and between 9-11 hours for younger children (5-12).  (The recommended amount of sleep for the average adult is between 7-9 hours/night). 

A NSF 2004 Sleep in America poll found that many school-aged children leave their homes for school when they probably should still be sleeping, said Brown.   On average, the poll found that children ages 10 and under start off for school just after 7:30 a.m. 

Here are tips for helping children and teens sleep throughout the year:

  • Start the school year sleep routine early.  Introduce a gradual change in a child's sleep schedule one or two week's before the first day of school such as going to bed 15-30 minutes earlier each night.
  • Make sufficient sleep a family priority.  Every family member must make a good night's sleep a regular part of his/her daily schedule.
  • Encourage good sleep habits for all family members.  These should include a nightly bedtime routine such as 15-30 minutes of relaxing, quiet activities immediately prior to bedtime, as well as regular (and appropriate) bed and wake up times.
  • Create a special comfortable place for sleep.  The bedroom (or other sleeping quarters) should be cool, quiet, and dark.  Televisions and computers should be placed in another room. Some children and teens find soft music helps them relax and get ready to fall asleep.  
  • Achieve a balanced schedule.  Identify and prioritize activities that allow for downtime and sufficient sleep time.  Help students avoid an overloaded schedule that can led to stress and difficulty coping, which contribute to poor health and sleep problems.
  • Look for signs of sleep problems.  The most common sleep problems in children include difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, stalling and resisting going to bed.  Snoring, which can be a symptom of sleep apnea, is prevalent among children and teens.  Excessive daytime sleepiness can be a symptom of a sleep problem such as narcolepsy.  If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, discuss them with your doctor or other health care provider.

For more information about sleep-related issues, visit NSF's Web site at www.sleepfoundation.org.  Children ages 10 and under should visit the special NSF site, www.sleepforkids.org.

The National Sleep Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving public understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, and by supporting sleep-related education, research and advocacy.

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Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322