RESEARCH HAS DEMONSTRATED that sleep is vitally important for everyone, much more so than previously thought, and especially for children. Sufficient sleep is critical to children’s growth and development, affecting their immune systems, learning, safety—just about everything that has a bearing on their overall well-being.
The National Sleep Foundation recently issued new guidelines for appropriate sleep durations. Included are recommendations for the hours each age group should receive nightly:
school-age children (ages 6 to 13): 9 to 11 hours
teenagers (ages 14 to 17): 8 to 10 hours
adults (ages 18 to 64): 7 to 9 hours
older adults (ages 64+): 7 to 8 hours.
Sleep deprivation, education don’t mix
Given that adolescents require about nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that more than 90% of U.S. high-school students get inadequate sleep, which is troubling considering that the side effects of chronic sleep loss include:
poor academic performance
an increase in automobile accidents
impaired cognition, poor impulse control and violence
increased risk taking, stress response and substance abuse
an inability to focus
increased depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation
decrements in athletic performance
increased risk of obesity and diabetes
Given our biological sleep requirements and the disadvantages of sleep deficiencies, it’s easy to see inherent problems in current school scheduling, with some high schools starting as early as 7 a.m. and bus pickup times starting as early as 5:15 a.m. These unusually early start times do not support consistent, sufficient sleep times for students, and likely not for the educators, bus drivers and others working within the educational system.
In response, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement (http://bit.ly/1LfbRBc) in 2014 advocating for school start times after 8:30 a.m. Start School Later Inc. provides Fast Facts (http://bit.ly/1v7HDGo) about sleep needs and school start times, noting that 33% of teenagers report falling asleep in class.
Sleep is fundamental
The most important lesson we can learn is that the prioritization of adequate sleep is the prioritization of quality education and quality of life. Sleep is foundational and, along with diet and exercise, forms the very basis of a healthy lifestyle. A lack of awareness of sleep science is the biggest barrier to safe and healthy school hours. This school year, let’s work together to educate and raise awareness—both in the home and in the classroom—about the importance of sleep, and find a way to make sufficient sleep a “mandatory prerequisite” for everyone.
This article was originally written by Terry Cralle and published on Sleep Savvy Magazine (Sept 2015). You can read the post, here.