original-933434-edited.jpgIn a culture that treats sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and working to the point of physical and mental burnout as a badge of honor, making the case for sleep and productivity can be difficult, if not impossible. Students of all ages and academic levels can be particularly susceptible to sacrificing sleep, whether to cram for exams, keep up with unmanageable workloads or get to early classes. By the time students get to college, the "all-nighter" is a virtual way of life and deeply ingrained in academic culture. But recent studies have shown that many students, teenagers in particular, need more sleep in order to succeed academically and perform to the best of their abilities.

Everyone's body reacts differently to different amounts of sleep, and teenagers are no exception. But regardless of how you feel, the National Sleep Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that teenagers get 9-10 hours of sleep per night. However, according to data from the CDC from several samplings of high school students, not only are most students not getting the recommended amount of sleep every night, but most are actually getting significantly less.

The data found that sleep deprivation seemed to go up with grade level, and overall, 95 percent of male and female high school students were getting fewer than seven hours of sleep per night.

The busy lives of teens

The teen years are a time of rapid physical and cognitive change. One of the byproducts of puberty is that a teen's biological sleep cycle — his "internal clock" — shifts forward, making him more alert during the evening hours and more groggy in the morning. This biological change often conflicts, though, with external changes in a teen's life — earlier school start times and evenings that are packed with sports and other extracurricular activities, homework and socializing. The result of this clash is that many teens go to bed late and wake up early, day after day.

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Multiple studies have outlined the important role that sleep plays for teenagers across several areas in addition and relative to academic performance. A big one is memory. Research shows that sleep actually helps the brain code, transfer and store memories. Without the necessary amount of sleep, the

 brain's ability to store information decreases, making it harder for students to recall information. 

Cindy Rigling, head of lower school at GEMS World Academy Chicago, a premier pre-K-through-12 private school, pointed out that sleep also has been shown to enhance a teenager's ability to "self-regulate," or control one's emotions, cognitive functions and behavior. According to the research, teens who stay up late tend to be less focused and more prone to getting irritated or frustrated during the day, all of which interferes with the learning process.

What parents, and teens, can do 

Some factors, like school start times and extracurricular schedules, are typically beyond a parent's control. Experts recommend that parents and guardians focus on factors that can be controlled. Here are some ways parents can help their children get the right amount of sleep:

  • Talk to your teen about sleep and why it is important to her health and her success at school
  • Work with your teen to keep her on a consistent sleep schedule, even during weekends.
  • Discourage your teen from using electronic devices or watching television near bedtime; the light from screens have been shown to affect melatonin levels and interfere with the sleep cycle.
  • Keep an eye on any late-night snacking or consumption of caffeinated drinks; eating and drinking can delay the natural sleep impulse.  

There are plenty of steps teens can take themselves to ensure they are properly rested for school each day:

  • Take a hot bath or shower before bed to increase sleepiness, and keep your bedroom at a cool temperature (68 degrees or so).
  • When it's time for bed, make sure your room is dark; use blackout shades if necessary, and turn the alarm clock away from you so the light doesn't distract you. In the morning on school days, open the shades and/or turn on lights right away, as light in the morning helps "recharge" the brain.
  • If you must snack before bed, try high-carb snacks like pretzels, saltine crackers or toast with jelly.


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