College & Workforce Readiness

Another College-Readiness Angle: Helping Teens Manage Sleep

By Caralee J. Adams — November 28, 2011 2 min read
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As I bumped into friends with college-age kids home over the long weekend, I found myself asking them if their children were exhausted. Many were. Others might have been tired, but still found time to go out with their high school friends to the wee hours of the morning much to their parents’ chagrin.

I remember collapsing over breaks at home, sleep deprived from late nights of studying—and having fun. Especially as a freshman, it was an adjustment to set my own schedule without anyone reminding me to get my rest. And, I didn’t have a cellphone buzzing at all hours with text messages.

Students today lose more than 45 minutes of sleep each week due to their cellphone disrupting their sleep, a study from the University of Rhode Island revealed. The students who used technology at the highest rates also had higher levels of anxiety and depression compared with the rest of the students in the study.

In our culture, it’s almost a sign of achievement to function on minimal sleep, but lack of sleep carries risks, according to the University of Michigan Health Services website. Not getting enough rest can cause decreased academic performance; car accidents; illnesses, such as colds and flu; and depression and anxiety. College students are twice as likely to be depressed as the general population, and researchers think their sleep habits contribute to this prevalence.

High school students, too, often suffer from too little sleep. This time of year with college applications due and finals, there will likely be many late nights ahead. Sometimes teens have a hard time unwinding before 11 p.m. and many have to get up by 6 a.m. for school.

While the average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep, teens need 9-plus, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Students in the Rhode Island study had a “sleep debt” of two hours each night, which is on par with other national sleep studies.

Which brings me to the idea of sleep and college readiness. Getting used to the college scene is demanding enough, let alone trying to do it on too little sleep. If we can help our high school students manage their schedules and value a sound night’s sleep, perhaps that can carry that over to college. And that can carry over to their grades, retention, and completion.

Jane Brody suggests a sleep journal to help track if your child is getting enough rest and set appropriate bedtimes. Also, she encourages schools to include information in the curriculum about sleep and biological rhythms so students will make smart choices about their sleep schedules.

Once they are in college, perhaps it’s a losing battle. I remember the thrill of those late-night snack runs and surge of energy the sugar and caffeine provided for a few more hours of studying. Part of the independence of college is keeping your own hours. But if those hours mean sacrificing too much sleep time, it’s just not healthy or sustainable. While they are still at home, some reasonable limits can help our teens get the rest they need. It might just help them avoid burnout, actually do better in school, and be happier.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.