Your kids have their curriculum set, new notepads, sharpened #2s, a shiny protractor, and a brand new backpack. Outfits for the first day of school are even narrowed down to three different options, but are they really ready for school?

Back-to-school jitters can cause sleepless nights prior to the big day. It’s almost inevitable. But chronic, inadequate sleep can cause more problems than just a groggy first day back. Kids are increasingly suffering from difficulties attributed to sleep deprivation that were previously only incurred by stressed-out adults. According to a 2006 study by the National Sleep Foundation, over 87% of high school students get less than the recommended eight to ten hours required for optimum performance. It’s an unfortunate, vicious cycle, too. The less one sleeps, the more poorly one performs, the more poorly one performs, the more stress increases, the more stress increases, the more sleeplessness incurs. The American Academy of Pediatricians goes as far as to say that tired teens are a public health epidemic.

There are plenty of reasons why children and teens are not getting enough sleep. For one, academic performance anxiety is through the roof right now. Also, work responsibilities for older kids in families with financial concerns weigh heavily on their shoulders. Even kids who don’t have after-school jobs but extracurriculars being treated like career options rather than the fun, social activities they were meant to be—the pressure starts early, and it doesn’t let up.

We haven’t even touched on all the technological stimuli that serve as impediments to sleep! Incessant phone notifications, blue light disruption of circadian rhythms, the whole FOMO and actually separating yourself from your phone, computer, and social media. Most kids think they would rather give up sleep than miss out on whatever it is “everyone else” is doing, but they don’t realize the grave harm it is doing.

And harm it does. From mental side effects to physical ones, the repercussions of a compromised sleep allotment are staggering. It hampers memory and concentration, negatively affecting school and athletic performance… really, just about everything that involves your brain. Which is… yeah. Everything. Response time and good judgment are impaired, resulting in accidents and possible physical injury. And speaking of “physical,” hormone levels can be affected. This obviously causes a number of factors, from mood changes and anxiety to irritability and even potential weight gain and/or acne. This even, in turn, can trigger additional peer pressure and physiological problems. Immunity can be compromised, increasing susceptibility to innumerable ailments. And everyone knows when you’re sick, you don’t sleep well.

Luckily, it’s not a hopeless scenario. Parents are fundamental tools in providing the structure and support to prioritize sleep. Still, at the same time, a global focus on mental health, self-care, and the importance of personal well-being is vaulting the issue into the forefront of conversations. Understanding the importance is the first step towards creating a healthy sleep/life balance. Here are a few hacks to get your kids, or yourself, back on a salubrious sleeping schedule.

  • For some, the pandemic has been, in a limited sense, like a long summer vacation. Now, the real summer vacation has been piled atop of that. Bedtimes have been pushed back without the early wake-up calls required for in-person school. Reset this creep by reversing it at fifteen minutes increments until you’ve reached an early enough bedtime to allow for a solid eight to ten hours of sleep per night.
  • Screen time and device use have wreaked tremendous havoc on normal sleeping patterns. Assign an irrefutable shut-down time for phones, tablets, and TVs, preferably at least an hour before bedtime. 
  • Try to keep consistent sleep schedules, even on weekends. Regardless of the day of the week, keeping active will formulate a healthy rhythm to encourage regular sleep patterns.
  • On that note, create an enjoyable pre-bedtime ritual that will prime the body and mind for imminent sleep. This will create a physiological response that allows a person a fall asleep naturally.
  • Avoid caffeine and sports drinks in the late afternoon, as it can take young bodies hours to metabolize caffeine. The same goes with sugar, which can also interfere with peaceful, restorative sleep.
  • Discourage afternoon and evening napping. This will stimulate nocturnal energy. If homework is causing grogginess, suggest intermittent walking breaks or even just getting up for a glass of water periodically to shake the nods.
Nobody can get anything done, especially done well, when they’re tired. Parents need to help establish and prioritize healthy sleeping patterns that will allow their kids to flourish. There might always be a hint of FOMO, but there is much more fun to have when you’re fully alert and engaged.