Sleep matters
Sept. 30, 2013
by Jenni Sebora

School has started, and my children are off and running – sports, practices before school, practices after school, theater, band, student council, work, competitions on school nights, getting home late, homework to do, and getting up early for a practice in the morning.

This type of schedule is typical for so many of our school-aged children.

Wow! No wonder our teens are having trouble getting up in the morning. No wonder they are tired and sleepy in school. According to research, a majority of teens get less than seven hours of sleep a night and are sleepy and tired during the school day. Some report falling asleep in class.

This, of course, can lead to many serious consequences for our teens. Research shows that teens require just as much sleep as they did when they were in elementary school, eight and one-half hours to a little over nine hours. Most teens are not getting this.

What are the consequences of sleep deprivation?

Students cannot perform as well if they do not get the required amount of sleep. Sleep is essential for learning potential. Students cannot gain the maximum learning from school. Sleep deprivation impairs the ability to pay attention, be alert, cope with stress, retain information, and solve problems.

I know, when I don’t get enough sleep, my ability to handle stress weakens, and I am more apt to get crabby. The same goes with my children.

Of course, an ongoing lack of enough sleep can harm a child’s ability in academics, athletics, and other activities, not to mention it can lead to health problems and social, emotional, and behavioral issues.

A study done by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom at the University of Minnesota, revealed a positive impact on pushing back the starting time of school. Minneapolis Public Schools changed its starting times from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. Dr. Wahlstrom studied the effects of this.

In her study, she found that students who got five or more extra hours of sleep a week benefited. Improvements in attendance and alertness, and decreases in depression were some of the identified improvements. This is encouraging.

So, what do parents and kids do when kids are encouraged to go in before school starts in the morning to engage in weight lifting, or play, sports, band, or other practices?

This also obviously affects a student’s necessary sleep. In fact, for teens, the time they have to get up to engage in the activities before school is when they are sleeping best.

Experts and research conveys that teenagers’ biological internal clocks are such that a typical natural time to fall asleep is about 11 p.m. They don’t feel sleepy until later because of their internal clock.

The National Sleep Foundation reveals that as teens mature, the melatonin secretion (a natural substance which helps us fall asleep) occurs later in the evening, which makes it harder for them to fall asleep earlier. The drop off of the melatonin in the morning is also later, which that is why they want to sleep in.

This is exactly what is happening to my teenage daughter. It is definitely her story. Even though she may be exhausted from all of her day’s activities, she is not sleepy or cannot fall asleep until about 11 p.m. Of course, then, when the alarm goes off in the morning, she is not ready to get up. This is when she is sleeping best. This, I know, is the same for so many teenagers.

My teenage son has said that he can tell in his performances in school and in his extracurricular activities, as well as in his overall health, if he doesn’t get eight hours of sleep.

Brains, especially brains that are still maturing and developing, need sleep for rejuvenation. It is vital.

Of course, for some teens, it is easier to fall asleep earlier and get up earlier, and kids can work on changing their sleep patterns, but this can be difficult when they get home late because of activities.

It was homecoming week at my kids’ school, and I was so happy when my daughter came home and said that one of her teacher’s homework assignments for them was to get eight hours of sleep that night. The teacher is certainly in tune to the students and their needs. I appreciated this assignment, especially for a homecoming week that is full of activities and is important to the students.

I think we have to start rethinking the encouragement of the early morning activities for our kids if they are not getting enough sleep. It can be difficult to do this because of schedules, but we need to see adequate sleep as a must for our children, for them to function optimally academically, physically, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally.

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