Back to School: ‘Lessons’ to Better Sleep

By: Taylor Andres

Getting a full night of restful sleep is important for children and adolescents as they head back to school this fall.

While some kids can fall asleep easily, the excitement of meeting new teachers, having different classes and catching up with friends can lead to restlessness and make it difficult to wake up in the morning. Even parents can have a hard time adjusting to the school schedule after a long summer.

Fortunately, there are a variety of tips that can help children, teens and parents get restful sleep during the school year. Dr. Thomas B. Rice from UPMC Passavant offers these suggestions:

What are some general tips you have for getting better sleep?

A: Sleep is very important. It’s something you should spend about one third of your life doing if you want to be healthy. It’s right up there with eating well and being physically active. I think people (not just kids) lose sight of that. It’s often a badge of honor to go without enough sleep. It’s not an honor anyone should strive for though. Once people realize how important it is, sleep can become a priority, which is the first step to sleeping well. After that, it’s easy. Basic principles include getting up at the same time every day (probably the easiest way to sleep well) and allowing yourself to wind down before bed without modern technology’s stimulating effects on our brain. If you don’t turn the TV, phone or tablet off, your brain will not get the signal it’s time to sleep.

Going to new a school or college can be stressful, how can students relax at night and fall asleep?

A: Reading, meditation or other self-reflective activities are excellent ways to handle stress, in addition to exercise that’s not too close to bed time. A warm bath or shower is very helpful in addition to a cool sleeping environment for insomniacs. As our bodies — brains specifically — cool down, there is a natural sleep-promoting effect.

How much sleep should children, teens and adults be getting each night?

A: Children should get between nine and 12 hours, teens need eight to 10 or even 11 hours and adults need seven to 9 hours. Unfortunately, studies show that the majority of people are not sleeping enough.

Many students stay up very late studying. What advice do you have for maintaining a healthy sleep schedule while staying on top of studying?

A: This is a critical issue for teenagers who delay their sleep to later bed times and wake times. They are changing and begin to have difficulties going to bed early enough to wake up early enough for school, which gets earlier as they progress to high school. This is the major reason for the push to delay school start times to 8:30 a.m. for all children, but particularly teenagers who often are unable to be awake naturally at earlier times, yet are asked to be at school the earliest.

Staying up late to study is problematic. There is a lot of work to be done for sure, but the extra light and stimulation late into the night will further delay sleep, making it impossible to wake when needed the next day. Trying to set aside time shortly after school or dinner to accomplish work that needs to be done is the only way to ensure that you can go to bed when you need to so that sleep can remain a top priority for healthy living.

At what point should you talk with your doctor about getting better sleep?

A: You should talk with your doctor if:

You frequently:

Lay awake in bed at night and can’t fall asleep after more than 30 minutes.

Can’t stay asleep or wake up.

Can’t go back to sleep in the middle of the night for long periods.

You wake up early before you need to be up and can’t go back to sleep.

You are tired and sleepy all day long, especially falling asleep when active.

You need to nap every day.

You can’t wake up early enough for school, work, life, etc.

 For more information on sleep resources, visit the UPMC Passavant Sleep Medicine Center.