HS Principal's Message
4/1/2011by Paul MacKaill
High School Principal
That we are not much sicker and much madder
than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed
and blessing of all natural graces, sleep.
~ Aldous Huxley, author
Aldous Huxley may or may not have been right, but it strikes me that poor sleep habits mean poor performance. One recent survey
published in The Echo
, a monthly ASH High School student digital publication featuring creative and artistic pieces, asked high school students to share how much sleep they regularly had. Their answers were of some concern with most students regularly sleeping less than the recommended number of hours for teenagers. This month I would like to share some extracts about sleep from an email written by Richard Rossi, founder of Parents of High Achieving Children (www.highachieving.com
), and sent on to me by a colleague.
With our super-busy lives and endless "to do" lists, we often sacrifice our sleep time to get more things done. Our children, too, suffer from lack of sleep because of academic challenges and social demands. There's no such thing as a free lunch! As we trim our sleep time, and as our kids fail to get sufficient sleep, our ability to function diminishes. We operate with more hours, but get less done and at a lower quality.
Last week was National Sleep Awareness Week...(in the US). It was also the beginning of testing season for most school children - midterms, finals, mocks, IAs...
Imagine that you were forced to wear a pair of dark sunglasses all day, indoors and outdoors. Sure, you could still function, but at a reduced level - slower and with more mistakes. The effect would be similar to living with slight sleep deficiency. I'm not talking about serious, persistent insomnia that needs medical attention. I'm referring to choosing to stay up to watch one more TV show, or going to bed later than expected because the book report took longer than expected, or getting involved in a late-night social chat on Facebook. Face it, our children are so full of life and interests that, if they could, they would never go to sleep. It's "lights out" when they are just too tired to continue. And that is way too late for them to get a good night's sleep.
A quick run-down of the common problems of lack of sleep includes:
Poor learning in school: In order to learn in class your child must be awake and focused. When you're drowsy, listening to the teacher becomes "in one ear and out the other", not learning. Sleepy kids need to read a passage several times to have any understanding, and absorb less of what they manage to understand. And perhaps worse for high achieving children is loss of the curiosity and higher-level reasoning that are the trademarks of the very best students.
Poor test performance: Assuming that your child has learned the material, being drowsy on test day will lower the test grade. While as parents we are most concerned that our kids actually learn the material, to society (and college admission officers) what matters are the results on test day. Lack of sleep can sabotage your child's success.
Strained social life: Children who lack sleep are more apt to react inappropriately when things go wrong - outbursts, speaking without thinking, and emotional fragility. Have you noticed your child being unhappy because of an argument with a friend at school? This sort of friction and unhappiness can result from sleep deprivation.
Physical Threats: Without enough sleep children become more clumsy and have poorer response times. This can lead to injuries from accidents, especially in gym class and sports. If your teen drives a car, it increases the chances of a crash.
Impaired Health: While the research does not specifically address teens, chronic lack of sleep in adults leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, obesity, anxiety, and general poor health. Any of these conditions will reduce academic success, motivation, and happiness in your child.
Keep in mind that I am not talking about dramatic loss of sleep, like using stimulants to stay awake for several days in a row. All the above effects happen to some degree with only a shortage of 30 to 60 minutes of sleep per day. And the effects increase as the deficit builds up.
As much as your teen may protest, you are still in charge. Your teen's success and happiness depends upon getting a good night's sleep on a regular basis. You should put into place expectations that lead to both sufficient time asleep and conditions that are conducive to quality sleep. And get enough sleep yourself.
1) Set a curfew: School age children need 10-11 hours of sleep every night to stay in top form. Count backwards from the morning alarm time and set a bedtime curfew of at least nine hours; 10 is better. I live in the real world, so I know that your teen will insist that eight hours (or less) is enough - try eight and assess after a month. If your teen gets up at 5 am to make it to a pre-school sports practice, and you insist on eight hours of sleep, that means bedtime is (impossibly!) 9 pm. If this is just not possible in your family, it is time for a discussion on priorities and scheduling.
2) Allow time for winding down: Routine is important. Help your child develop a pattern for preparing for bed, like some Facebook time, followed by some light reading, brushing teeth, shower, and bed. The wind-down time should not include action TV or movies, caffeine, exercise, bright lights, loud noises, or anything more than a small snack.
3) Make your child's bedroom a place for sleep: All electronics should be removed or turned off (no cell phone, texting, IM, computer, DVDs, video games, etc.). The room should be a comfortable temperature, dark, and quiet.
All this sounds pretty obvious. Why then are so many teens and adults so chronically sleep-deprived? Surveys point to two primary reasons - choice (sleep is a low priority) and habit (accustomed to "good enough"). As a parent, you are the one who can give your child the edge by raising the priority of sleep and setting the routines for sufficient quality sleep.
This is certainly food for thought. I wish you and your children a bright spring with lots of rejuvenating sleep!