By Greg Taranto
Today’s teens are experiencing more sleep deprivation than ever and the culprit can be the very device that you are using to read this article.
According to the Mayo Clinic, today’s students are faced with more stimuli than ever with more than 90 percent reporting sleeping less than the recommended 9-10 hours of sleep needed for healthy child development.
It is not unusual to have a conversation with a student and find out that they were up until 11 p.m., midnight or even later on a school night!
They are consumed by a nightly digital barrage stimulating every neuron in their brains and nearly shutting down the production of the chemical for making them drowsy. Sleep is put to the side to make sure they are up-to-date on the latest and greatest on Facebook, winning that conquest on Xbox Live, texting friends, and listening to the latest Maroon 5 album on their iPod Touch—and all at the same time!
However, this late-night digital overload results in them playing games about zombies at night to turning into zombies at school the next day. Today’s teens are tired and deprived of one of the most essential necessities in their lives—sleep.
Sleep is as important as exercise and a healthy diet. According to the American Medical Association, children who sleep eight hours or less a night have an increased risk of experiencing mood swings, hyperglycemia and becoming obese.
A recent AMA study revealed that students who had less than eight hours of sleep had significantly lower academic performance achievement compared to their peers who received the recommended amount of sleep. If you see a dip in your child’s grades, one of the first things you may want to do is evaluate your child’s sleep schedule and adjust as necessary.
A boost in their grades may just be as simple as getting an extra hour or two of sleep a night. As the adults in our children’s lives, we have an obligation to make sure they establish healthy practices at night to allow them to get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep experts recommend the following strategies to help your teen get back on track to a healthy sleep schedule:
1. Power down those electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. Gaming and Facebook are the biggest distracters in this area. (Note: My professional recommendation is to eliminate Facebook completely if your child is not in high school, as this will cut down on a few other problems that Facebook poses at such a young age, but we’ll save that for another article.)
2. Watch the caffeine. The consumption of too much caffeine will result in an inability to efficiently metabolize, the effects causing problems in sleep patterns.
3. Don’t allow your child to sleep in or take a nap. This simply enables your child to stay up late the next night and repeat the cycle. If your child stays up late then make sure he or she reports to school on time.
4. Maintain a regular schedule. By maintaining a regular schedule, you create a more stable circadian (sleep) cycle.
5. Read at night. Not only will reading help your child fall asleep at night, but it will also promote literacy. (Note: Watch those Kindles, eReaders, and Nooks— make sure the brightness is turned down to avoid the light from causing overstimulation, and be careful they are not using it to surf the web.)
If you have a child who does have an irregular sleep pattern and running on the bare minimum throughout the week, then it is time to get things back on track.
It takes time to get to a healthy sleep schedule, so be patient and gradually wean them to a reasonable bedtime. In the end, it will be worth it to promote and encourage a much healthier and stronger academic lifestyle.
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Editor's Note: Greg Taranto, Ph.D. is the principal of Canonsburg Middle School—a 2011 Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn and National Schools to Watch Middle School, and serves as and adjunct professor for California University of Pennsylvania’s Administrative Leadership Program.
As an educator and expert in middle-level education, Taranto works with a nationally recognized group of teachers who specialize in middle-level education.
His work has appeared in publications in the area of technology integration, adolescent learning, and best middle school practices.