Making the Grade: Raising a Successful Student

Returning to the back-to-school routine can be challenging for kids and parents. How we start the day often determines how productive that day will be and is influenced by how we ended the day before.

With the new school year underway, one of the most important things you can do to help your child succeed in school is to make sure they develop healthy sleeping habits. Unfortunately, most children are not getting enough sleep and this can have a noticeable difference in both their academic performance and behavior.

Children require a lot more sleep than many parents – or educators for that matter. Studies have suggested that sleep deprivation or bad sleeping habits among children and teens can interrupt metabolic functioning and contribute to a number of serious health problems, including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and learning problems.

“Sleeping is like eating,” said Stephen Sheldon, chief of sleep medicine at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago and associate professor at Northwestern University. “It is performing a biological function that is required.”

Although studies have been unable to establish precisely how much sleep school-age children and teenagers need, the National Sleep Foundation recommends:

• 3 to 5 year olds need 11 to 13 hours of sleep each night

• 5 to 10 year olds need 10 to 11 hours a night

• 10 to 17 year olds need 8.5 to 9.5 hours a night

Students diagnosed with ADHD can have more difficulty falling asleep. These children can easily become sleep depraved making learning even more difficult.

Even though they require less sleep, teenagers have a particularly tough time when it comes to getting adequate rest. Trying to juggle after school programs, part-time jobs, homework assignments and the all-important social activities, all make sleep time a low priority for the majority of high school students. Early school start times – the majority of high schools start at 7 a.m. – only exacerbate the problem.

If you receive reports that your child is falling asleep in class or their grades begin to deteriorate, this could be a red flag that your child is not getting enough sleep.

As the school year gets underway, parents need to evaluate their child’s sleeping habits and structure evening activities so that kids can get the sleep they need. This is, of course, easier said than done…especially if you are dealing with teenagers.

Here are a few ways you can create a good sleeping environment and establish a bedtime schedule that will help your child get the rest they need to succeed at school.
• Try to finish eating several hours before bedtime and avoid caffeine-containing drinks and chocolate.

• After the homework is out of the way, allow your child some downtime to relax.

• A warm bath an hour before bedtime may help calm some children, but for others it can be stimulating. For those children, a bath or shower before school may help wake them up and improve their attentiveness.

• Create a sleep-conducive environment by reducing the light and noise in your child’s room. That means no television, radio, computer or cell phones. Find a comfortable temperature for your child’s bedroom. Many of us sleep better when the room is slightly cool, around 65 degrees.

• Stick to the bedtime schedule, even on weekends.

Some of these recommendations are not always easy, particularly for working parents. But it is no secret that we all feel and perform better after a good night’s sleep.

Deirdre Imus is the Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center™ at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Deirdre is the author of four books, including three national bestsellers. She is a frequent speaker on green living and children’s health issues, and is a contributor to For more information go to