Parenting • Aug 26, 2013

The road to academic success is paved with sleep

The following is a guest post from Dr. James Kemp, co-director of the sleep center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, on the importance of healthy sleep routines as kids return to school.


I once worked for a gifted department chairman.  He was kind, a great teacher, and energetic to the max.  He fostered great accomplishments in research and in the care of children.  He had a photographic memory, and, I am told, only slept 4 hours a night.

If your child is that gifted, this is not about him or her.  Yet, our children’s’ schedules, and the Teenage girl studying at the desk being tiredexpectations some parents have for their kids, make me think that we don’t realize that very few of us can get by on 4 hours of sleep.

How much sleep children and adolescents need is not the same for all.  Fourteen-year-olds, who might begin to feel intense academic pressures, are supposed to get 9 or more hours sleep per night.  Research shows that if they do not, they will often be sleepy the next day, and attempt to catch up on sleep on the weekends.

More common among people I know who accomplish much, is a respect for their need to get a refreshing night’s sleep.  As adults, they have mastered the knack for being busy, but not too busy.  They understand the importance of exercise in getting a good night’s sleep.  They prepare for sleep by spending 30 minutes, or more, with electronic gadgets off, reading and relaxing.  Something similar for teenagers is also in order.

Apparently, teenagers need time to “hang out” with their friends, too.   How a “hanging out” event is defined s not clear, to me.  But it seems to be essential. They enjoy it, and even schedule it.  Make sure your 14-year-old has time for this, particularly on the weekends, and in a safe place for hanging out.   This may make him less needy for electronic communication at bedtime.

For decades, William Dement, one of the founders of the study of sleep, has taught Stanford University students during their freshman orientation about the importance of enough sleep to their academic success.  That’s right, not all-nighters, or cramming, or being over-committed, but at least 8 or 9 hours a night to re-charge and refocus through sleep.

Parents should talk to their kids about choices that limit their ability to get enough sleep, beginning in early middle school.   What activities are truly important to the young person?  Later, is working enough hours at $10 an hour to make payments on a $15,000 car really a wise use of time?

Like so many things that we need to discuss with young adolescents, enough sleep is a must.

(One word of caution for parents:  do not discuss these issues with a 14-year-old over breakfast at 6:45 AM.  Even if you are, they are not morning people!  Absolutely pick a time for talking in the evening, and the discussion will be much more congenial.  Expect that they be polite, if silent, in the morning; being talkative and vivaciousis asking too much.)


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