August 20, 2007
For some, the school year has already begun. For others,
the start is coming within the next few weeks.
"Before the new school year starts, youngsters should start
to change their summertime sleep habits. If they don't,
they could end up suffering a sleep deficit that could
affect their performance in school, say American Academy of
Sleep Medicine (AASM) experts.
"'It is difficult to advance
your bedtime and, once a schedule has been established, it
may take days or weeks to develop a new schedule. It can't
be done overnight. Not unexpectedly, for the first weeks of
school, many children and teens do not obtain a proper
amount of sleep.' Dr. Daniel G. Glaze, a pediatric sleep
expert at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston and a
member of the AASM board of directors, said in a prepared
statement. The switch from a summer-holiday to a
school-year sleep schedule 'means that there is a big
adjustment ahead for teens,' Ralph Downey, chief of sleep
medicine at the Sleep Disorders Center at Loma Linda
Medical Center in California, said in a prepared statement.
"He suggested that teens start adjusting their
bedtime/wakeup times during the week before the start of
school. Children and teens need more sleep than adults and
young peoples' circadian rhythms are more easily disrupted,
said Dr. William Kohler, of the Florida Sleep Institute in
Spring Hill. Depending on their age, students need at least
nine to 10 hours of quality sleep a night, and parents need
to enforce appropriate bedtime hours and a healthy sleep
environment. 'A student's performance is dictated by the
amount of sleep he or she gets the night before,' Kohler
said in a prepared statement. 'A child or teen who
regularly gets enough sleep will have improved academic
performance, a positive attitude toward their education and
be able to better interact socially with their peers and
While it may not come as news that a good night's sleep
will lead to a better day at school, trying to get a good
night's sleep and wake up rested for school after being on
a summer sleep schedule can be a difficult transition.
"A researcher studying sleep for NASA has found the body
has more difficulty adjusting to different sleep times than
previously thought. ... 'There's no doubt that changing
your biological clock is difficult,' [Timothy Monk, a
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center psychiatry
professor who is leading a study to find the best way to
shift sleep] said Tuesday. 'What we're trying to do here is
basically address the question of how you cope with
something that is difficult.' ... Researchers found the
body only adjusts itself by about one hour a night — not
the two of NASA's current practices. The findings were
published in this month's issue of Aviation, Space and
Environmental Medicine. A second phase of the study shifted
sleep in 30-minute blocks; the final phase, just starting,
will shift sleep in one abrupt movement. 'There is always
some cost to performing tasks when we expect to be asleep,
but by the end of the series of experiments' researchers
should be able to advise NASA which approach is best, Monk
said. Testing could last a couple of years, he said. ...
'Many of us find that we have to change our sleep schedule,
perhaps to accommodate work or school start times, or a
change in our commute time,' Monk said. 'We often wonder if
we should make the change all at once, or more gradually
over several days or weeks. This research has the eventual
aim of helping us make that decision in the best way
While researchers continue to work to find the best way to
adjust a sleep schedule, there is practical advice to help
those trying to make the transition to and maintain a
healthy school sleep schedule.
"NSF recommends these sleep tips to help parents and
children start the school year strong:
- Gradually adjust to earlier sleep and wake schedules ten
days to two weeks before school begins. This will set
biological clocks to the new schedule.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule, and avoid extremes on
weekends. Having a regular bedtime increases the likelihood
that kids -- including teens -- will get optimal sleep.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Reading before bed
is a good choice for kids of all ages and for parents.
- Create a sleep environment that is cool, quiet, dimly lit
- Keep television, video games and other electronics out of
the bedroom. NSF's 2006 Sleep in America poll revealed that
having electronic devices in the bedroom is associated with
an increased risk of falling asleep in class and while
doing homework. Eliminate exposure to electronic media
(television, video and computer games etc.) within an hour
- Limit caffeine, especially after lunchtime.
- Eat well and exercise."
National Sleep Foundation
There is the ideal, and then there is reality.
"Teenagers' sleep problems are aggravated by the schedules
they keep, says Simon. 'In high school, socialization
starts, and parents start allowing children to go to
football games and go out afterward, and then they let them
sleep in on Saturday mornings.' On Saturdays, the children
will wake up at 10 a.m. and go outside, and the natural
light reinforces the message to the brain that this is the
'starting time' for the day, he says. 'Then they stay out
late again Saturday night and sleep in Sunday morning. When
Sunday night comes, the kids want to get into bed earlier,
but they can't fall asleep. Then, when 6 a.m. comes, they
can't wake up. Their biological clock has changed.'"
Questions of the Week:
What can you do to help the transition to a school sleep
schedule go as smoothly as possible? What can you do to
maintain a healthy sleep schedule during the school year
while still living the busy life of a student? How can your
friends and family members help you balance school, life,
and sleep? How can you help them?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum