As an educator who works daily with adolescents and teens, I am troubled by the fatigue that I witness from many of them. I regularly ask how many hours of sleep they manage during a typical school night. Most high school students respond that they average fewer than six hours. When I tell them that they require at least 9 hours of sleep, most of them respond that they cannot possibly accomplish everything and still have sufficient sleep. Research studies have indicated that biological factors contribute to “night owl” status for teens, and certainly, early morning school hours exacerbate the situation. Add homework, athletics, extracurricular activities, and part-time employment to that mix to understand why they suffer from protracted sleeplessness.
Their anecdotal reports appear to parallel sleep research. An article in a recent edition of Education News by nutritionist Byron Richard presented come troubling data. “Sleep problems in children and teens have reached a crisis level in America. . . . Only 20% of teens get adequate sleep. 16% of teens say have noticeable sleep problems, while 28% report falling asleep at school. . . New science shows that these issues are setting the table for obesity, depression, drug abuse, and future cardiovascular disease.”
Factors such as stress and poor diet can contribute to sleep problems. An ingestion of sugar can provide a temporary boost to a sleep-starved brain. Yet, in the long run, poor eating and snacking choices can lead to more extensive problems like obesity without providing the rest that the body really craves.
While parents have little or no control over their teens’ sleep patterns, they can promote a lifetime of good health by establishing positive habits very early. Aside from establishing regular bedtimes for young children, they can encourage good eating habits and regular exercise. They can provide a healthful diet and a restful, stress-free environment. As their children reach puberty, they can assist them in selecting activities that will supplement rather than overtake their academic responsibilities. They can encourage their children to establish study routines that allow for discretionary time for rest and relaxation.