Getting proper sleep is just as crucial to our health as eating right and exercising. This is especially true for our children. Studies have shown that lack of sleep in children may contribute to anger, impulsiveness, mood swings, sadness, depression, and a lack of motivation. Children who don't sleep enough may have problems getting along with other children, and they generally get lower grades too.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children aged 6–12 years should regularly sleep 9–12 hours per 24 hours and teenagers aged 13–18 years should sleep 8–10 hours per 24 hours. A lack of sleep means your child may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to suicide and risk-taking behavior.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and adolescents who don't get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, injuries, and poor mental health. It will be much harder for them to perform to the best of their abilities without enough sleep, or if the sleep they get is not good.
If we expect our students to have the energy to learn and thrive, they need the correct amount and the right kind of sleep. Sleeping is the time when a child's brain recovers from the wear and tear of the previous day and is getting ready for the next day of challenges and learning. When your children are asleep, their bodies are working to support healthy brain function, brain growth, brain development, and maintain their physical health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both taken positions that a later start time for Middle and High School students is beneficial. We are well aware of the importance of sleep at UUSD, and, at the direction of our Board of Trustees, we adjusted the start times at Ukiah High School and Eagle Peak Middle School several years ago.
With all of this evidence about the importance of sleep, what can parents do? Thankfully there are many proven strategies for improving your child's sleep:
- Have a set bedtime and a bedtime routine for your child. Make sure they go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
- Make sure your child's bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature. A dim nightlight is acceptable.
- Remove all electronics like TVs, computers, and smartphones from your child's bedroom at bedtime.
- Don't use your child's bedroom for timeouts or punishment.
- Your child should avoid large meals, sugar, and caffeine before bedtime.
- Make sure your child spends time exercising outside every day if possible. Being physically active during the day can help your child fall asleep more easily at night.
- Have your child take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques with them before bed, such as yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises.
- Avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV, cell phone, or computer screen for an hour before bedtime.
We now know the problems associated with a lack of sleep and how to improve sleep, but what are the benefits for your students if they get proper sleep? According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the benefits of getting enough sleep include:
- Get sick less often
- Stay at a healthy weight
- Lower your risk for serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease
- Reduce stress and improve your mood
- Think more clearly and do better in school and at work
- Get along better with people
- Make the right decisions and avoid injuries
Our children deserve every chance to learn and thrive, so let's give them an advantage by helping them get the best sleep possible. To learn more about sleep, visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine at https://aasm.org/ and the National Sleep Foundation at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/.