Question of the Week

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 teachers.'"
HealthDay News

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 possible.'"
CBS News

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 and comfortable.
  • 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 of bedtime.
  • 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.'"
Web MD

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

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