For many parents, back-to-school also means back-to-bedtime after a summer of kids staying up late. But even under normal circumstances, many kids do not get the sleep they need1:
- About 30% of kids under 11 get less sleep at night than is recommended.
- More than half of teenagers get less sleep at night than is recommended.
As you get to know the new students you’re working with this fall, you’ll be discussing their performance and behaviors — either with the kids themselves, their parents, or both. Consider making sleep a topic of these conversations.
According to WebMD, “It is not widely recognized and appreciated just how pervasive and critical quality sleep is for brain development and how it directly influences daytime functioning, performance, mood, and behavior. When was the last time your doctor or school teacher asked about your child’s sleep?”2
Symptoms of overtired students
Lack of sleep can be an underlying problem in many of the issues facing kids, parents, and teachers. As you collaborate and confer with families, you probably have discussed a spectrum of possible solutions—nutrition and exercise, academic tutors, school counseling, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and diagnostic testing, to name a few. Experts say that sleep should be part of those conversations, too.
Here are some red flags you can watch out for in overtired students3:
- moods and emotional problems
- impaired learning and school performance
- high-risk behaviors, such as substance abuse, suicidal tendencies, and drowsy driving
In addition, students who get insufficient sleep also can be more prone to health problems, such as obesity. “A recent study found that greater media use in teens was linked to a higher body mass index, largely because of reduced sleep time,” according to the National Sleep Foundation.
These problems also are common in sleep-deprived kids4:
- daytime sleepiness
- poor concentration
- poor social skills
Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wrote a helpful and accessible Strategy Brief on Sleep and School that describes ways educators and youth experts can intervene when it comes to sleep-deprived kids.5
The first step to intervention: Awareness
According to UNL’s Sleep and School Strategy Brief: “Recently, researchers have found that even low levels of sleep loss appear to have detrimental effects, with the loss of as little as 30 minutes to one hour of sleep per night often being enough to produce observable and meaningful impairments in child functioning.”
Even though a teacher, coach, or youth expert can’t enforce bedtimes, you can play a role in influencing kids to get their Zs. More from the UNL researchers: “Basic sleep treatment typically involves educating parents and children on the importance of sleep, the recommended amount of sleep for children based on their age, and how to improve sleep hygiene.”
So what’s “sleep hygiene”? Here are some examples:
- Avoiding caffeine after 2 p.m.
- Avoiding electronics one hour before bedtime
- Avoiding stimulating activities before bed
- Avoiding sugar before bed
- Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine
- Providing a quiet and dark environment
- Going to bed and waking up at the same times every day
It’s also helpful to know how much sleep is recommended for the ages of kids you work with—probably more hours than you think. For example, experts recommend school-aged kids, ages 6-13, need nine to 11 hours every night. For teenagers, ages 14-17, eight to 10 hours are recommended.
To learn more about how to promote healthy sleep in kids, check out UNL’s complete Sleep and School Strategy Brief.5