Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Health Wise

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Health Wise

Article excerpt

November 2012, Helping Students Make Healthy Choices


Better Grades Through Sleeping?

When it comes to sleep, school presents special physiological challenges to teens. Most elementary-age kids and preteens need 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Most teens need 8.5 to 9 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation. As teens transition to less sleep, their circadian rhythm (daily biological cycle) resets, possibly because adolescents produce the brain hormone melatonin later at night.

A high school student typically falls asleep at 11 p.m. or later (Wolfson and Carskadon 1998). Only 15% of adolescents sleep 8.5 hours or more on school nights, according to the study of more than 3,000 high school students (Wolfson and Carskadon 1998). Teachers know the possible consequences:

* Difficulty paying attention. More than one-fourth of high school students sleep during class, according to a 2006 National Sleep Foundation poll (see "On the web").

* Poor academic performance. Students earning Cs or below reported getting less sleep, having later bedtimes, and having more irregular sleep schedules than students getting As and Bs, according to the 1998 study.

"Teens who don't get enough sleep can also suffer from moodiness and feelings of sadness," says Mary Lou Gavin, MD, medical editor for Kids, though it's unclear what's cause and what's effect.

Classroom activity

The National Sleep Foundation recommends integrating sleep-related education in high school curricula. Have students track their sleep patterns and assess any possible effects on their grades (see "On the web" to download a monthly sleep log).

First, have students research sleep (see "On the web"). Next, offer them tips for getting the 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep they need nightly, including:

* Setting a regular bedtime, even on weekends;

* Avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine or nicotine, after 4 p.m.;

* Avoiding TVs, computers, and handheld electronic devices at least 1 hour before bedtime;

* Creating the right sleeping environment--a quiet, dark room kept at a comfortable temperature;

* Avoiding all-nighters--staying up to study for a test or complete a paper.

Then have students log the times they fell asleep, woke up, how many hours they slept to the nearest half-hour, and whether they felt tired during the day. …

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