So how can we help stop our kids from racing on empty and losing years of essential sleep? The first step is to realize how much we contribute to perpetuating a work ethic that celebrates pushing ourselves and our children to the limits. We need to treat sleep as essential to our teenagers’ well-being and success by teaching them that sleep is as important as nutrition, exercise, studying, and free time. Over the past several years we’ve created national guidelines for eating and exercise, shouldn’t we do the same for sleep?
We can also make changes in our schools, like advocating for later high school start times. An adolescent’s brain works on a different circadian rhythm than that of adults — theirs thrives with later wake-up times. After the start time at a high school in Edina, Minnesota, was changed from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., verbal SAT scores for the top 10 percent of students increased by several hundred points. The increase could not be attributed to any variable other than later start times.
Schools should also adopt block schedules and bring back study halls, both of which reduce the number of classes students must prepare for each day and give them more in-school time to complete academic assignments rather than requiring them to put in a grueling “second shift” after school.