With back-to-school season in full swing, it’s time to talk about how parents can help their children succeed academically — without sacrificing their sleep. Especially for middle school and high school students, there is increasing pressure to perform well academically. Homework loads increase in middle school and high school, along with the time preteens and teenagers spend doing extracurricular activities, including sports. When you factor in the time adolescents spend at school, participating in extracurriculars, socializing with friends and spending time with their family, this leaves few hours in the day for actual sleep. It’s not hard to see how all of these commitments results in later bedtimes — as a way to make time for studying and keeping up with schoolwork.

What the latest research reveals about teenagers, studying and sleep
New research has revealed that sacrificing sleep to study doesn’t help kids succeed academically. In fact, students who stay up late doing homework are more likely to struggle in school the next day, regardless of how many hours the student spends studying. A study conducted by researchers at the University of California - Los Angeles looked at the studying habits of over 500 students in grades 9, 10 and 12. The study reported some interesting findings:

  • Delaying bedtime in favor of studying was linked to an increased risk of students having trouble understanding the material being taught in class, as well as students doing poorly on tests, quizzes or homework assignments.
  • Teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to engage in risky or unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, drug use and fighting.
  • Teens who sleep less are more likely to gain weight. Teens who sleep fewer hours are more likely to consume more calories in a day and eat higher-fat foods and snacks, compared to teens who get enough sleep.
  • Teens who get less sleep are more likely to feel depressed and anxious. There is evidence to suggest that teens with sleep problems are at a higher risk for mental health issues and behavioral problems.

Helping your preteen or teen make the grade and get a full night’s rest
As the research shows, it’s important for preteens and teens to get enough sleep every night. However, this is easier said than done. Adolescents are predisposed to staying up late and sleeping in, which can make it hard for parents to manage a teenager’s sleep schedule. Here are some ways you can help your teen stay well-rested and improve their sleep habits:

  • Keep all technology out of the bedroom — Teens are often glued to their screens at all hours of the day. This includes checking their phones, watching TV, using an iPad and doing homework on a laptop. Electronic and digital devices should be kept out of the bedroom. Exposure to the light emitted by these devices is actually disruptive to sleep and can keep teens awake. Make a “no screens” bedroom policy for your whole family and stick to it. This includes parents who might have the same poor bedtime screen habits as their kids.
  • Find the right bedtime by working backward — Compared to adults, teens need more sleep, about nine hours every night. Figure out what time your teen needs to get up in the morning and work backwards from there, to ensure that your kid gets enough rest.
  • Let your teen sleep in on the weekends, but not too much — Biological and hormonal changes make teenagers more inclined to sleep later. However, too much sleep isn’t healthy and can actually make teens feel more tired. Letting your preteen or teen sleep in for an extra hour or two on the weekends is fine, just don’t allow them to sleep until noon or spend the whole morning in bed.

It’s possible to help your preteen or teen find the right balance between getting enough sleep and studying. We all want our kids to succeed academically. Healthy sleep habits are a key part of making the grade and feeling alert and ready for a new school day.

Our team of specialists at Rocky Mountain Pediatric Neurology and Sleep Medicine has the advanced training and the professional experience to treat children, adolescents and young adults for neurological and sleeping disorders. In every instance, our medical evaluation is provided in a relaxed, kid-friendly private practice setting. We work closely with the primary care physician through every diagnosis and treatment plan - an important collaboration that provides an even higher quality of care for the child.