Yes, school starts too early… but you still need to go to bed.
OK, it’s settled. Teens are sleep deprived.
The American Association of Pediatrics is telling us that in order to get the 9.25 hours they need, rather than the 7.1 hours they’re getting, we’re going to have to let them sleep in.
Luckily, there are advocates on the case, like Jilly Dos Santos—check her out in the September issue of Choices—and resources for anyone who wants to join in. Mainstream media has jumped on board, and there was even a special on The National Geographic Channel last Sunday night—Sleepless in America. Could be a great one to show the class.
Hopefully, this momentum will keep on building, and we’ll get this sorted in a year or two. But—as is usually the case with cultural shifts that involve bureaucracy and budgets—it’s probably going to take some time. And this is time kids don’t have to waste.
So, until the powers that be adjust school schedules to support the health of our students, we’re going to have to teach our students to make some adjustments on their own. If your cafeteria is serving unhealthy food, then you advocate for change… but you don’t skip lunch while you’re waiting.
Sleep cycles can be altered.
Professional athletes train themselves to sleep according to their unique schedules, and anybody who has travelled abroad can tell you — after you get through the first few days of jetlag — eventually your body will adjust.
Now, is it fair to ask kids to go against their natural biology while we fight for things to change? No… but it’s not fair to ask them to pick healthy food in a world full of Cheetos either.
National Health Education Standard 1.7
Describe the beneﬁts of and barriers to practicing healthy behaviors.
1. THE BENEFITS
Teens live in the moment; they’re not usually thinking long-term. I try to focus on some of the immediate benefits that sleep provides. It makes us more creative, fit, happy, attractive, focused…. all while giving us the energy we need to get through the day.
I have the kids watch this TED talk, give them some articles, and let them research on their own. Then they create a poster, commercial or presentation advocating for sleep by focusing on the benefit that resonates with them the most.
Russell Foster: Why Do We Sleep?
- The National Sleep Foundation: Teens and Sleep
- HuffPost Healthy Living: 5 Ways to Change the World in Your Sleep
- The Atlantic: Sleep Deprivation Makes Us Appear Unattractive and Sad
- Stanford News: Superathletes Sleep More
- NY Times: Lost Sleep Can Lead to Weight Gain
2. AND THE BARRIERS
So what’s getting in the way? Natural sleep cycles aside, there are some things we can do to make sure we get a good night’s rest.
Set a tech curfew. It should be about an hour before bedtime. Screens mess with our melatonin and impact our ability to sleep through the night. So do all of those pesky notifications… and don’t forget about FOMO.
We usually have a class discussion on tech curfew, as it’s another opportunity for the kids to share what works for them. Hopefully the younger ones have a set one in place, but the older ones need one too. If they don’t want to hand over their phone to their parents before bed (but it’s my alarm clock!!), then airplane mode is a good trick.
Flip it on when it’s time for curfew. The alarm will still work, but nothing will go through. And then when you flip it off in the morning, you’ll have all of those notifications waiting. Just don’t waste too much time going through them… you’ve got to get ready for school.
If your district is debating over late start times and the kids want to get involved, here are some resources to help.
About the author: Amy teaches Middle School Health at the Shanghai American School and has a passion for curriculum that is current, relevant, adaptable, and shared. She has presented at conferences in Asia as well as the AAHPERD and SHAPE America National Conventions. You can access her blog and resources at thehealthteacher.com and find her on twitter at @teaching_health.