Whether your son or daughter is heading off to kindergarten, to high-school, or is about to enter college or university, getting enough sleep is not only critical to how well they’ll be able to learn and function, but to their overall health as well. You see, having a good night’s sleep not only helps recharge our batteries and make us more alert throughout the day, it helps to reduce stress, improve memory and sustain physical health.
How much sleep is “enough” sleep for students?
As a rule of thumb, your 5-year-old should be getting between 10 and 11 hours of sleep each night. While it may seem like a lot, once you factor in a day filled with active playtime, learning new things, and how quickly their bodies are growing, it becomes easy to see why such a significant amount of rest and recovery is key to their being able to perform throughout the day. Now, if your child is one of the many that resist bedtime, there are a few tricks you can employ to help ensure they get sufficient sleep. Limit the number of naps they take, ensure naps are no more than one hour, and that they happen before 3 pm in the afternoon. Helping them relax at the end of their busy day is also important and in addition to bedtime reading, a nice warm bath will help ready them for sleep.
By the time your child reaches their teenage years, their need for sleep drops to between 8 and 10 hours. And because their bodies and emotions are changing so rapidly, ensuring that they are properly rested is both important and challenging as they begin to define their own personalities, form social liaisons, and push back. The truth is, when teenagers attempt to function without sufficient sleep, it can seriously impact their relationship with peers and family as well as their ability to learn. And its not an uncommon problem. Research indicates that teens typically get far less sleep than needed. So, how do ensure your teenager is able to function to the best of their ability? Engage them in sports to help deplete energy naturally, keep them off electronic devices (including their phone, laptop, iPad, and even television) 30 to 45 minutes prior to bedtime, and maintain a regular sleep pattern – so no sleeping till noon on weekends.
For students heading off to university, their need for sleep is typically down to 7 to 9 hours as they reach maturity and are no longer physically taxed to the extent they were when they were younger. But at this age, they face an entirely new set of challenges – part-time jobs in addition to studies, pulling all-nighters as they cram for exams, as well as the natural stimulants associated with socializing, such as alcohol, late-night eating, and nicotine. When deprived of sufficient sleep, academia begins to suffer as a student’s ability to focus on anything beyond short periods of time, is impaired. Quick solutions to achieving a good, restorative sleep can be as simple as recognizing and avoiding these known simulants. More difficult is the need to restrict the use of electronic devices to pre-bedtime hours, and turning off the television before climbing into bed to allow the secretion of melatonin into your brain so that it can wind down.
How Sleep-Deprivation Impacts Students
So, while you now know how much sleep your student will need when school starts, lets look at the effects that a lack of sleep can have on your son or daughter.
1. Emotional Well-Being
For students that are physically and mentally healthy, lack of sleep can cause them to become moody, easily irritated, and impatient. Their reactions to real or even perceived negative stimuli can become exaggerated to the point of irrational and can ultimately damage relationships with friends, family, and peers. For young people that are struggling with mental health issues including anxiety, depression, or even existing sleep disorders, it can dramatically amplify their inability to cope and increase suicidal tendencies. Studies show that by developing a sustainable, restorative sleep schedule you can rebuild the neuron connections that support sensory, motor, and cognitive skills – all of which help regulate behaviors. Parents should always be aware of their child’s sleep patterns including fretfulness, inability to fall asleep or remain sleeping throughout the night. If negative patterns are observed over a prolonged period of time, consider changing their daily activities to minimize stress. Avoid over-scheduling and encourage down-time away from electronic devices.
2. Cognition and Academic Success
Taking the time to avoid over-scheduling and to plan for proper, restorative sleep is shown to improve our brain’s ability to not only remain sharp, but to learn new information, and to retain data. In fact, studies have shown that students that have received a full night of uninterrupted sleep were better able to analyze and solve difficult problems over those that didn’t receive the same level of rest. While its no surprise that poor sleep quality naturally results in students that feel drowsy throughout the day and are easily distracted during classes, it can also elevate stress levels. Respecting your internal circadian rhythm is important to mental heath and for students who think they can pull an all-nighter, then catch up on sleep over the weekend, this type of disruption can be very difficult to get back on track. That’s why college and university students who cram through the night, are typically more likely to have a lower GPA. Their ability to multi-task is hampered and any benefit gained by studying all night is quickly lost.
3. Physical Development and Overall Health
While you’d be right in assuming that some of the key benefits to getting a good night’s sleep are feeling more alert and ready to take on the day, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Restorative sleep impacts how virtually every system in your child’s body functions. It helps to regulate hormones, boosts their immune system to help stave off illness, and assists with muscle and tissue recovery. As the result of the dramatic physical and emotional changes young people are going through during this period, a prolonged lack of sleep can not only impact their physical growth but research has drawn a correlation between sleep-deprivation and a higher risk of long-term cardiovascular problems and even diabetes. Add to this, the propensity for teenage students to resort to heavily caffeinated beverages and other stimulants to stay awake, and you can see the unhealthy pattern taking shape and that will affect their overall health for years to come.
4. Decision-Making Capabilities
Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality are known contributors to fatigue and sleep-deprivation among students of all ages. But did you know that it can also impact the development of the frontal lobe of your son or daughter’s brain? That’s the part of the brain that controls impulsive behaviors and its what keeps them on the straight-and-narrow when they’re faced with having to make difficult decisions and exercise self-control. When you’re a child, you have mom and dad helping prevent you from taking silly risks that might cause injury. As you become a teenager or young adult, you are now dealing with peer pressure, access to various stimulants, and more stressors in your life that in turn cause fragmented sleep. When you combine ongoing exhaustion, lack of supervision, and opportunities to indulge in risky behaviors, you have a perfect storm. You have a student who is more inclined to drink and drive, miss classes, text while driving, or engage in unprotected sex.
5. Injury through Accidents
Beyond the impact that exhaustion can have on your son or daughter’s ability to exercise sound judgment, it can also put them directly in the line of fire when it comes to accident or injury. For teenagers or young adults that count on part-time jobs, distraction and lack of attention when using a knife, fryer, or open flame at a restaurant, or cutting corners when it comes to use of safety equipment on a construction site, can have serious if not deadly consequences. And regardless of how diligent your child is when it comes to not drinking and driving, simple fatigue can cause them to have slower responses or to even fall asleep at the wheel of a moving vehicle. For young children, physical exhaustion can result in serious injury on playground equipment, when riding their bike, or just running and playing with friends. Add to that the lack of attention caused by fatigue and it can result in them failing to properly buckle up in the back seat.
Sleep Tip Snapshot for Students
- Eliminate use of electronic devices (iPhones, iPads, television) 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime.
- Allow them to take short naps of less than 30 minutes earlier in the afternoon (before 3 pm).
- Avoid over-scheduling that can result in undue stress and lack of restorative sleep.
- Keep any food consumption to a small snack (versus a full meal) before bedtime.
- Maintain your internal circadian rhythm over the weekend – no extra-late sleep-ins.
- Create an ideal sleep environment – no electronics, cool temperature, no distractions.