Each August as we transition from summer to a new academic year, a shift in our daily routines is just one of the significant changes we undertake. One of these changes is that of our sleep schedules. During the summer months, sleep cycles for many people become distorted, causing us to go to bed later, wake up earlier, and get less rest than what can ideally sustain our bodies in the coming seasons. By getting less than the recommended amount of sleep, we are wreaking havoc on our internal clocks at a pivotal point in the year.
Getting a sufficient amount of sleep as we adjust to a new routine is really important – and not just to prevent us from dozing off in class or other activities. Not getting enough sleep may also lead to a number of serious health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, depression, substance abuse, and even heart problems such as irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and stroke. Inadequate sleep is also a factor in approximately 6,000 fatalities (per the CDC) caused by drowsiness each year.
In addition to helping us avoid all these pitfalls, getting adequate sleep actually helps us become better learners – improving attention, alertness, and even our problem-solving skills. Plus, getting the proper amount of sleep can lower our stress levels, improve mood, and enhance physical coordination.
All this means that taking a few simple steps to get our sleep schedules back on track for the start of the school year is totally worth it, especially since most students in middle school and high school don’t get enough sleep on school nights. While adults can thrive on 7-8 hours of sleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, elementary and middle school students need 9-12 hours per night, and teens need 8-10 hours each night. Here are a few pointers that can help:
– Start gradually. About a week or two before a major change in schedule is expected, begin to adjust bedtimes and wake times by about 15-30 minutes a day toward your optimum weekday schedule.
– Be diligent. While it might feel good to hit the snooze button a few times each morning, sticking with your plan to adjust your sleep cycle will be worth it in the end.
– Do it together. Have the entire household participate, not only to keep each other accountable, but also to let everyone reap the benefits of better sleep.
– Observe. As you begin to adjust your sleep schedule, take note of how you feel throughout the days and whether it gets easier each day to wake up.
– Use technology. Fitness gadgets and apps can help track your sleep duration and quality.
One more extra step you can take is to join the campaign for sleep. School districts across the country are beginning to see the value in later start times for school, especially at the high school level. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine actually recommends that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., arguing that the later start time helps kids get the sleep they need to perform well in school and stay healthy. So, if your school district gets an early start each day and you feel your kids could benefit from a later start time, share your concerns with the district.