When discussing the topic of health with our young people, diet and exercise are covered extensively. What middle schooler would struggle to recite the critical role that fruits and vegetables, protein and fats play in assisting a growing body and a developing mind to flourish? Likewise, physical exercise for children of all ages is promoted by school systems, community recreation centers and public service announcements on television, radio, and the internet (eg: NFL’s Play60). Proper eating habits and regular exercise are two very important components to assist your student to be happy and successful as young people and as adults.
The third leg of that stool, sleep, is sometimes relegated to the back shelf of “well that’s assumed” or “that varies by the student”. In other cases, sleep takes a back seat to busy schedules that include early morning bus pick-ups, sports, homework and/or video game playing. Along with eating right and regular exercise, the proper amount of sleep can reduce and, in some cases, eliminate many of the challenges our young people are facing, including anxiety, depression, lack of focus, and behavioral problems.
Those of us who have raised babies and toddlers know all-to-well the disaster that awaits any parent who decides to alter a young child’s sleep habits. How many of us have regretted our decision to ‘shop for just another 30 minutes’ (even though it is nap time) or to stay up late with the kids because we had company over? Inevitably, the next day can be miserable for the child and equally as difficult for the parents and others who may have to deal with the child. The child’s emotions are heightened, their ability to make good choices is limited, patience evaporates entirely, and in general everything just seems bad. In the same way, we as adults can agree that when we are tired, we do not perform as efficiently and in some cases our attitudes and behaviors are not what we would like them to be.
Although life as an adult can be stressful in many ways, our students are dealing with many demands, pressures, and responsibilities, many of which are brand new to them. Their bodies are growing and changing, and they are expected to juggle school, sports, friendships, and possibly a part-time job; in addition, in many cases there are aspects of their home life that may not be ideal. Students who are tired do not have the ability to pay attention in class or retain new information; they often become irritable and dramatic, which directly affects their ability to develop quality friendships; they have cloudier outlooks on life events and in some cases are not able to process these events realistically; their creativity is stymied and their imagination shuts down.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages 3-5 require between 11 and 13 hours of sleep each night, children ages 6-13 require between 10 and 12 hours of sleep, and teenagers between the ages of 14-17 require 9 to 10 hours of sleep.
Achieving the higher end of these sleep ranges for your child can be difficult. Most children would rather stay up than go to bed. A regular routine needs to be established and expectations need to be clear. Parents need to assist their students in completing homework, sports practices, work schedules, etc. so that the student can realistically reach those sleep targets. Quiet time or reading time before bedtime, if possible, makes the transition from the busy day to a restful night sleep easier.
Although ensuring your child gets enough sleep each night is not easy, you will be providing your student the gift of a clearer mind, a healthier body, and a brighter attitude on life.
By: Beth Voet