If your teens are like mine, they love to stay up late, are difficult to get up in the morning, and would sleep until noon if you let them. That is what teens do, especially when they are growing. Teens often make difficult choices and trade-offs when trying to allocate time among school, work, extra-curricular activities, friends and family. Many times those choices are at the expense of sleep.
Studies suggest teens need at least nine hours of sleep each night; however, many are only getting around seven hours a night on average. When sleep is limited on school nights, students can go to school too sleepy to learn. Having trouble staying awake increases the chances of missing important information being taught while also risking the loss of a teacher's respect.
A recent study published online in the journal Child Development reports that teens who stay up late to cram for tests tend to do poorly on the test they studied for because of sleep-related academic problems. Researchers also found that the problem compounds over time as academic rigor increases. Now that teens are back to school, will late-night studying to stay on top of their tough academic schedule sabotage their success? Here are some keys to help your student make the most of their study time and their sleep.
- Help your student establish a consistent study schedule. This should include a quiet and undistracted place to study as well as time that isn't hurried because of other responsibilities.
- Help students learn to distribute study time for upcoming quizzes and tests evenly over several days prior to reduce the need to cram the night before.
- Help your student establish a set school night bedtime based on the time they must be up in the morning and NOT on social schedules, outings, or media. The "lights out" policy should include all computers, TV, lights, and cell phones being turned off. Soft music can be helpful for teens to relax and drift off to sleep. (As the parent of a teenage son, I realize this is a tough sell. However, if your student has struggled in the past to stay awake or to stay focused in school, it is a battle worth having to get the school year off on the right foot.)
- Help your teen establish an evening routine that slows them down at the end of the day including limiting the consumption of caffeine containing products after dinner. Taking a shower, pleasure reading or playing a board game with the family (a parent can dream, can't they?) are great options, in addition to other easy relaxation techniques. Even if studying is necessary close to bedtime, winding down with a leisure activity before lights out is a healthy practice to establish.
- Watch for signs of sleep deprivation in your teen especially if they have their license and are driving. The National Sleep Foundation offers these signs:
- Difficulty waking in the morning
- Irritability in the afternoon
- Falling asleep during the day
- Oversleeping on the weekend
- Having difficulty remembering or concentrating
- Waking up often and having trouble going back to sleep
Sleep deprivation can also lend to extreme moodiness and increases the risk of car accidents from drowsiness or falling asleep behind the wheel.
Do you think the early start time of high schools contributes to the teens sleep difficulties? What time do you think high schools should start to meet the needs of teenage students?
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