Children need sufficient and consistent sleep to learn, function and grow. However, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau show that 78% of high school students and 34% of children don’t get sufficient sleep on an average school night, and studies show that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on sleep in children.
“The pandemic altered our children’s daily routines, including sleep and wake schedules, screen time and physical activity, all of which can be harmful to their overall health and well-being,” said AASM President Dr. Raman Malhotra. “Now that most students are back in the classroom, it’s important that they establish new routines that include the proper amount of healthy sleep.”
The AASM recommends that children from 6 to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health, while teenagers between 13 and 18 years of age should obtain eight to 10 hours of sleep per night.
“Poor sleep in children causes stress and irritability, impairs learning and decision-making and can increase feelings of anxiety and depression,” said Malhotra. “Making sure children get the proper amount of sleep gives them the best chance to succeed and positively impacts their academic and athletic performance, relationships and other activities.”
Impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted sleep and school schedules for children and teens. One study estimated that 49% of children aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep nightly and 54% have experienced sleep disturbances during the pandemic. A study of high school students found they stayed up later and slept later, but only students who were getting inadequate sleep prior to the pandemic experienced an increase in the amount and quality of their sleep.
“The pandemic has provided insights into how students best learn and perform and given the choice, many teens will stay up later and sleep later, based on their own internal clock, or circadian rhythm,” explained Malhotra. “Now is the time for schools to evaluate their schedules to support teens’ biological need to sleep later.”
The AASM recommends that middle schools and high schools should start at 8:30 a.m. or later to best align with students’ circadian rhythm.
Benefits of Healthy Sleep for Students
When students get the recommended hours of healthy sleep on a regular basis, they experience better outcomes, including improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. Sufficient sleep also helps students:
- Excel in the classroom by maximizing attention, memory and learning abilities
- Perform better in sports by being faster, stronger and more accurate
- Feel their best and have a more optimistic attitude toward life
- Look their best and maintain a healthy weight
- Have fun and enjoy life by making better decisions and staying safe
The benefits of healthy sleep require not only adequate sleep duration, but also appropriate timing, daily regularity, good sleep quality, and the absence of sleep disorders.
Tips for Healthy Sleep Here are some steps to help students establish good sleep habits that can have lifelong benefits:
- Get some physical activity every day.
- Avoid caffeine after school.
- Limit after school naps to 30 minutes or less and don’t nap after 4 p.m.
- Maintain regular mealtimes and a healthy diet.
- Minimize screen time before bed and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom.
- Keep regular bedtimes and wake times, even on weekends.
Resources for Educators
On its Sleep Education website, the AASM has compiled resources for educators that will help teachers, school nurses, counselors, and coaches raise awareness of the importance of sleep for students. These resources include:
- “Sleep Smart” lesson plan: Created by the AASM and Young Minds Inspired for third to fifth grade teachers
- “Circadian Rhythms and Sleep” lesson plan: Created by Scholastic and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for middle school and high school teachers
- “Sleep 101” education program: Created by the nonprofit organization Healthy Hours in collaboration with sleep experts from Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital for middle school and high school students
The AASM also encourages educators to share with their students the winning videos from the AASM’s annual high school video contest. Made by teens, the videos creatively highlight the importance of healthy sleep.
For more information about Student Sleep Health Week, please visit https://sleepeducation.org/get-involved/campaigns/student-sleep-health-week/.
About Student Sleep Health Week
Supported by a resolution introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the third week of September is designated as Student Sleep Health Week. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine will be hosting online events throughout the week of Sept. 12-18, 2021, with the hashtag #StudentSleepWeek. Join the conversation and learn all about the importance of sleep for students, including healthy sleep tips and more. Supporting partners include: American School Health Association, National Association of School Nurses, Project Sleep, Society of Health and Physical Educators, Sleep Research Society and Start School Later.
About the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
Established in 1975, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) is advancing sleep care and enhancing sleep health to improve lives. The AASM has a combined membership of 11,000 accredited member sleep centers and individual members, including physicians, scientists and other health care professionals (https://aasm.org/).