Regular sleep better for students

Poll finds 60 percent of students complain of being tired at school

Posted: Wednesday, April 04, 2007

LUBBOCK, Texas --Ashlyn and Madison Miller always bring home the report cards of their parents’ dreams.

That may be because 6-year-old Ashlyn and 8-year-old Madison have a set nighttime schedule right down to when they eat dinner, do their homework and go to sleep.

Cindy Miller, their mom, believes her girls’ routine has helped them better prepare for school each day.

“I think routines are very important when you have young children,” she said. “It helps them prepare for the next day because they’re not dragging in the morning and they’re not cranky, and so that makes for a better school day for them and for their teachers.”

Annette Jones, counselor at Lubbock-Cooper South Elementary, agreed that a good night’s sleep is an important part of a child’s academic achievement.

“I think it’s probably one of the top indicators of performance,” said Jones, who taught in the classroom for 18 years. “When my students would come to school sleepy ... it would reflect in their grades and in their daily performance.”

Ashlyn and Madison both are straight-A students, Miller said.

A recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 60 percent of children under the age of 18 complained of being tired during the day, according to their parents, and 15 percent said they fell asleep at school during the year.

Adolescents are more likely to be sleep deprived than younger children because of increased responsibilities and activities and the impact of television, video games, caffeine, medication or sleep disorders, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Physicians and school administrators believe that establishing good sleep habits - or sleep hygiene - early in a child’s life may decrease the chance he will grow up to be a sleep-deprived teen.

Dr. Daniel Hurst, pediatric neurologist at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, suggested parents like Miller may be on the right track.

Helping your child get into a pattern where they regularly go to sleep at about the same time at night and wake up at about the same time in the morning is beneficial, Hurst said.

“It’s mainly having a regular schedule and then maybe also having some rules about what the expectations are,” he said.

Children and teens require more sleep than adults because they are still growing and developing, according to the National Sleep Foundation

Adolescents require an average of eight to nine hours of sleep each night, Hurst said.

“If a person does not get enough sleep, then they are sleep-deprived, and it causes a number of problems with a person’s mental functioning,” Hurst said. “They’ll have problems concentrating, and the person may feel more irritable.”

Other signs of chronic sleep deprivation are difficulty making decisions, loss of short-term memory or becoming overly aggressive, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Kathy Balko has been a nurse at Frenship Middle School for 11 years. She said she frequently talks to teens who complain about being tired during the day.

Sometimes, students will fall asleep at their desks.

“I don’t think a lot of them are getting enough sleep,” she said. “It’s not just the kids staying up late. Sometimes it’s medicine or physical problems that cause lack of sleep.”

Some medication can interfere with sleep, Balko said. Other reasons teens may not be getting enough sleep include family problems, playing video games at all hours of the night or too much late-night television.

“A lot of teens have their habits,” she said.

Hurst said parents who have problems waking their child up in the morning may want to try removing televisions or video game consoles from their child’s bedroom.

Creating a comfortable sleep environment is essential, he said.

“If a person has a problem going to sleep and they put the TV on before bed, removing the TV is one way to improve sleep hygiene,” he said.

“Frequently teens are not in control of when they get up in the morning. So if a teen feels tired or sleepy, it’s realizing that they may, in fact, need to go to bed earlier.”

Larry Hess, director of guidance and counseling for Lubbock Independent School District, said sometimes parents have trouble communicating with their teens about bedtimes.

It is natural for a teen to express his independence by wanting to make decisions for himself --even if they’re the wrong ones, Hess said.

“Through centuries and throughout time, adolescents think they’re bulletproof,” he said. “And in all my years as a school counselor, I couldn’t change that way of thinking.”

Parents who meet resistance when they tell their teen to go to sleep at a certain time may want to try reasoning with them by asking questions like:

What time do you think you need to go to bed?

What’s the latest you can stay up and still be able to do your best at school tomorrow?

“The student will probably answer correctly because it just makes sense,” Hess said. “They know if they’re being silly.”

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