Written by: Lance Williams-Senior Health Educator, Robert Crown Center for Health Education
As the weather begins to shift and days become longer, students are gearing up for the end of the school year and the start of summer. As a student, one thing I always looked forward to around this time of the year was the chance to catch up on all my lost sleep. My parents were much more relaxed with me and my sleep schedule over the summer as it was an earned break from the day-to-day grind of the school year. With that being said, the approach I and many young people take toward catching up on sleep often leads to increasing our “sleep debt” rather than decreasing it. Simply put, our bedtime and wake time are just pushed back with no real change in the amount of sleep that we are getting.
Many of us don’t realize the importance of sleep and how it impacts our children and their developing bodies. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) defines “sleep debt” as the difference between the amount of sleep that you need and the amount that you are actually getting. The NSF’s recommended sleep range for preschoolers (3-5) is 10-13 hours, school age children (6-13) 9-11 hours, and teenagers (14-17) 8-10 hours.
When in classrooms, it is common for me to hear that students feel they are getting a proper amount of sleep (they often feel this way because they are so far in sleep debt that they do not remember what it is like to be well rested), that they are aware of the recommended ranges of sleep, but rarely are they actually meeting those recommendations due to school work, activities, social life and other responsibilities.
To help combat sleep debt this summer we can do a few simple things recommended by the NSF. First, we can keep an eye on our children’s total sleep hours. If your child’s summer bedtime is later than their bedtime during the school year make sure they are able to sleep-in until they reach their recommended sleep range.
Next, we can keep sleep times consistent (as much as possible). Consistent timing is very impactful because our internal body clock (which affects health, mood, and cognition) works best with regularity and that shifting bedtimes around is like giving a child a mini case of jet lag. A bedtime of 9:30 pm every night is better than switching between 9:00 pm and 10:00 pm.
The last step is easing them back into their school year bedtime and wake time as summer comes to an end. This can be done one or two weeks before the school starts by decreasing how late they stay up by 15 minutes each night. If your child is having a hard time falling asleep at the earlier bedtimes, waking them up 15 minutes earlier in the morning can help.
Summer is a busy time with vacations or family parties that often go late into the night. The nice part is that there usually aren’t early morning wake-up calls the next day. Try to use the summer to let your children catch up on the rest that they need. The importance of sleep is often overlooked, but it is as important as physical activity and a healthy diet.