Back to School, Back to Sleep
Fixing your children's sleep problems may improve their grades and their behavior.
From Elementary to High School, Sleep Problems Are Pervasive and Widespread
You may be surprised to learn how prevalent sleep problems are. In studies
of elementary school-age children, nearly 40% showed some kind of sleep
problem, and 10% had daytime sleepiness.
Adolescence: Sleeplessness impacts personal health and public
With increasing freedom from parental control, social activities and
academic challenges, sleep is not exactly a high priority for adolescents, and
the sleep time most teenagers get is insufficient: the average is under 7 1/2
hours, with only 15% sleeping 8 1/2 hours or more on school nights and more
than 25% typically sleeping 6 1/2 hours or less. Up to half of adolescents
reported at least occasional difficulty falling or staying asleep, with up to
13% experiencing chronic and severe insomnia.
Sleepless adolescents are not just tired teenagers. They are at increased
risk for negative moods, impaired memory, motivation and ability to think and
make good judgments. Drowsy driving together with "microsleeps" (i.e.,
unintended sleep episodes) add up to increased automobile accidents, of which
teens are heavily represented.
Late to Bed, Early to Rise, Makes Us Cranky, Moody and Cry
The first day of school often initiates a cycle of poor sleep and problematic
behaviors that may be difficult to break. It goes something like this:
- Late Bedtimes, Early Start Times: Late summertime bedtimes
collide with early school start times; so kids start the new school year being
- Sleep Debt Builds: Each day they lose more sleep, building
up a "sleep debt" that, like all debts, must be paid-off.
- Weekend Catch-up - There's a Catch: Now comes the weekend,
and we feel good that our child sleeps late, catching-up on all that sleep. But
wait just a minute - there's a catch to that catching-up: it is actually a big
red flag that your child is not getting enough sleep, and late weekend
sleeping actually perpetuates the whole dysfunctional sleep pattern.
Interestingly, a study in which school start times were moved from 7:15 a.m.
to 8:40 a.m., resulted in children getting an hour more sleep each night and
Late-night-type, rebellious adolescents are predisposed to this pattern and
often complain that it is very hard to fall asleep, easier to fall asleep if
bedtimes are later, hard to wake in the morning, late to school and sleep late
What to Look for in Your Child: Signs, Symptoms and Typical Tactics
Results from the National Sleep Foundation's 2004 Sleep in America poll may
(or may not!) surprise you:
- Infants most often seem sleepy or overtired during the day (29%) and/or
wake too early in the morning (21%) at least a few days a week.
- Toddlers most often stall about going to bed (32%), resist going to bed at
bedtime (24%) and/or seem sleepy or overtired during the day (24%) at least a
few days or nights a week.
- Preschoolers most often stall about going to bed at bedtime (52%), resist
going to bed at bedtime (30%), seem sleepy or overtired during the day (26%),
snore (19%) and/or have difficulty waking in the morning (19%) at least a few
days or nights a week.
- School-aged children are most likely to stall about going to bed (42%),
have difficulty waking in the morning (29%) and/or snore (18%) at least a few
days or nights a week.