Back to School, Back to Sleep

Fixing your children's sleep problems may improve their grades and their behavior.

From the WebMD Archives


Adolescence: Sleeplessness impacts personal health and public safety

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:

  1. Late Bedtimes, Early Start Times: Late summertime bedtimes collide with early school start times; so kids start the new school year being sleep-deprived.
  2. Sleep Debt Builds: Each day they lose more sleep, building up a "sleep debt" that, like all debts, must be paid-off.
  3. 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 improved attendance.

    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 on weekends.

    Sound Familiar?