School and sleep — are students getting enough?
It’s been awhile since I’ve been a student, but I remember the pain of either staying up all night to finish a project or not being able to wake up early enough to make it to school on time. In this week’s Sleep News, we look at the connection between students and sleep. Does the school system work for their sleep habits, or is it more suited for the teachers? We share some advice for getting your students back into a regular sleep schedule and tips for using screens at night without it affecting sleep.
School starts too early for students to get enough sleep
The argument every child has with their parent, might actually be true. According to a U.S. Department of Education report, 5 out of 6 high schools and middle schools begin the school day before 8:30 am, which is too early for students to get enough sleep.
According to WebMD, getting enough sleep is critical for students’ health, safety and academic performance. The article went on to say “teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, suffer from depression and engage in unsafe behaviours such as drinking and smoking.” Another risk the article pointed out is students who drive. These sleep students are going to be at a higher risk of preventable accidents because they’re too tired when behind the wheel.
If you’re looking to move and want your child student to get enough sleep, you’ll want to avoid Hawaii, Mississippi and Wyoming. These states had zero schools which started before 8:30 am. Louisiana had the earliest average start time of all 50 states (7:40 am).
On the other hand, a move to Alaska or North Dakota might give your student a better chance at a good night’s rest. These states had more than 75% of their schools begin their school day at 8:30 am or later.
You can read the full article about students and sleep on WebMD.
Getting your children in a back to school sleep schedule
Let’s be honest, moving states to accommodate your child’s academic needs might a little far flung – and in most cases, you don’t have the power to change what time your school starts. When I was a teenager, I tried to plan my courses so that I could sleep later on some days or have shorter days (so I could nap) wherever possible. No matter what my schedule looked like for the fall, it was always a hard transition from summer back to school. Here’s some advice to help you or a student in your life, get back into a school sleep routine.
Many people want to soak up every last bit of sunshine and summer before it’s over. Dr. William Cotton, MD of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, suggests beginning the transition to back to school 2 weeks before summer ends. Dr. Cotton lists some advice for helping your student get into a regular sleep routine again:
Buy blackout curtains or blinds to create a dark, quiet bedroom without distractions.
Remove electronics such as smartphones, tablets, TVs and laptops an hour before bed.
Cut out any afternoon naps to ensure your child is tired enough to go to sleep earlier, which will also help to get students back into a regular schedule before school starts.
Dr. Cotton also cautioned that students who are sleepy simply aren’t going to be able to pay attention. Lack of sleep can also affect their hunger cycles, which could cause them to binge eat, he added. He also shared concerns that tired students may be more likely to get depressed and more likely to get into a fight.
For more information on how much sleep your child should be getting, you can find the recommended times from the National Sleep Foundation.
Using screens at night without losing sleep
Let’s face it. Even though students (and adults) know it’s important to turn off screens before bed, many of us don’t. If you’re the kind of person who can’t handle the thought of not bringing their smartphone into bed, here are some useful apps and tools to help ensure you still get a good night’s sleep.
- Create a warmer screen color — studies show people who read from warmer-colored screens don’t experience the same difficulty falling asleep as their bright-screened counterparts. A couple of tools that will help to create this experience for you:
- f.lux — a free download for your desktop or laptop computer will adjust your screen colour depending on the time of day and where you live.
- Oyster e-reader app — this subscription service gives you access to unlimited books and also has a feature that changes the color of your screen at night. This means that you can read in bed without it affecting your sleep health.
- Use a website blocker — if you don’t have your own discipline to turn off your screen before bed, try using a website blocking tool. There are many free options that allow you to either limit the time of day you can visit certain websites or the amount of time that you spend on those websites.
This can be useful not just for falling asleep, but also for concentrating on homework without unnecessary distractions.
- StayFocused is an app you can download from the Google Chrome store that lets you set which websites you’d like to block and allow. It has a lot of options that you can configure and what I like about it most, is that it allows you to set a time limit before blocking a website. For example, if I want to allow myself 15 minutes a day for Facebook, I can setup StayFocused to give me full access to the site until my time has expired. After that, Facebook won’t be accessible to me until the next day when the timer resets itself for another 15 minutes.
- Cold Turkey is a program you can download onto your computer to work with any browser. It has many features like StayFocused, including the option to block out websites during certain times of day. If you want to block out Facebook before school for example, Cold Turkey will help you to do that. It also allows you to block out apps and games so that the student in your life gets ready for school or homework done without wasting time online.
Do you find getting your kids back to a school sleep schedule is tough? We’d love to hear your tips and advice for getting your students well rested. Share your ideas in the comments below.
Greg Lehman is a freelance writer and one of the founding members of Spike Creative Solutions, a marketing agency based out of Waterloo, ON Canada. A self-described hippie in a business suit, outside of work Greg is either wandering through a forest, digging in the garden or taking a nap with his two dogs Casey & Dakota. Connect with Greg Lehman online.