Wellness Committee Meeting November 19, 2014: Sleeping Well While Doing Well

A Wellness Committee Dialogue on Sleep: “Sleeping Well, While Doing Well”
November 19, 2014
Submitted by Kathy Sandler, PTA Assistant Recording Secretary
The Wellness Committee met on November 19th and talked about sleep – and strategies to help your child get more. Leading the discussion was Alison Ferst, a Clinical Psychologist in the Counseling Dept., and Michelle Gullo, a Health Teacher for grades 7-10.
The parents in attendance gave similar tales of woe when it came to sleep – our kids are not getting enough, they go to bed too late, they have trouble getting up, and it affects their performance and attitude. Ms. Ferst reminded parents that, while there are certainly science-supported recommendations regarding adolescents and sleep, we don’t have a “one size fits all” prescription.  Each family has it’s own rhythm, history, values, and students have different temperaments and physical needs with regards to sleep. “Sleep struggles in adolescence”, said Ms. Ferst, can feel very reminiscent of toddler sleep struggles. Who gets to decide, who is in charge, at what point do parents override a child’s self-determination around sleep? A lively conversation ensued. Ms. Gullo agreed, saying that the kids talk about sleep issues in health class all the time. Sleep is a hot topic among students. “Our kids know a lot, and intellectually they know that the adolescent brain requires additional sleep, but knowing what is healthy, and being able to implement healthy practices, even when you want to, is not always the easy.”
What To Look For
The internal clocks in teens change, so they can be wide awake at 11pm, but not alert at 10am. One Dad said his senior goes to sleep and wakes up well in the morning, but he’s worried that his son does not get enough hours of sleep because he is up so late. What about sleeping for extended stretches on the weekends to make up for deficits during the school week? There are debates in the literature, said Ms. Ferst. Generally speaking, when people are sleep deprived, their functioning closely resembles someone intoxicated. What you need to watch out for are signs of mood disturbance, and impaired functioning. Are they chronically irritable and upset? If they have friends, their moods seem decent, and they are able to do the tasks that they are engaged in, they are probably OK. Functionality is a good hallmark.
The Problem of the Blue Screen
Many parents knew that their children should not be on a screen right before bed, because the blue light affects the quality of sleep. A parent of an 8th grader said they have a cell phone curfew where the child hands over the cell phone at a set time of night. Lots of parents spoke of their kids on the computer, iPad, cell phone, etc. all night long, multi-tasking, and not concentrating on their homework. One parent told the group that she has become less of a police officer, and more of an observer--pointing out to her child that they are screen flipping/multi-tasking, and noticing the impact. For example, asking “Do you realize you do this?” and explain that they lose time when they try to re-focus, and it’s hard to concentrate. 
What Works?
Do What Works for Your Child and for Your Family: One Mom said she’s resorted to waking her kids up by banging a wooden spoon on a pot and not stopping until they get up. Ms. Ferst suggested that some kids actually can do work such as planning out an essay or paper, while they are doing other things such as watching a movie – while others simply cannot.  Helping your child accurately assess the type of learner that they are, and how sleep impacts their ability to learn and produce, can go a long way as far as raising adults that can self-regulate sleep. 
     Many kids nap after school, wake, and then have a second sleep. There are studies that suggest the importance of a straight eight plus hours of sleep per night, and a consistent bedtime and wake-up time including weekends. Other researchers take a different stance. Before the advent of the streetlight and indoor lighting, our ancestors slept when the sun went down, often got up at midnight to gather around and tell stories by the light of the moon, and then went to sleep again until sunrise. While this works for some, it leaves other kids ragged with sleep deprivation, not to mention the disruption to other family members in households with close quarters. 
Wind Down: People need time to wind down before bed. How do you make the wind down time and sleep time something to look forward to? Lowering the light, reading for pleasure, having a soothing bedtime ritual that is highly enjoyable, can work for teens. Ms. Ferst pointed to research that shows that writing for ten minutes in your own handwriting helps. (Not on the computer, and NOT To Do Lists!) can often be helpful. Also, a walk, or meditation is a great thing. 
     You may want to have your child take an inventory – that is, have them write down what they did, minute-by-minute, the last hour before bed. Then look over the list and determine how much each activity is worth to them. Ask them, “What are the time sucks?” And together, think of an ideal bedtime, with wind down ritual. It’s about progress and not perfection!
Don’t set your alarm in the night: Many people set an alarm at night for the following morning. Ms. Ferst cited a recent article which suggests that this might actually trigger the worriers to worry at a time when they should ideally be winding down. Instead, when you get up in the morning, set the alarm for for the following day.
The Nirvana of Self Regulation
We found that a lot of the teens were testing parent’s limits. Can a child do it on their own? A lot of parents said the children need to learn self-regulation, but how far should the parents let things go? Another parent said that her daughter has a lot of tardies at school, and Ms. Ferst advised that a parent step in to help when there is clear indication of difficulty with time management that his having consequences. Ms. Ferst suggested that a parent should intervene before their breaking point, and be proactive.
Other Issues
Parents raised a few other issues and concerns:
Group Projects: One parent thought that there should be more group projects at Hunter, because the peer pressure forces kids to focus, rather than playing on the computer, and gives good results. There should also be some assignments that are done by hand, rather than on the computer, to help them think differently. 
Teachers Posting Homework Late: Parents had complained about teachers not posting weekend homework until Sunday night. Students are not always able to appropriately plan for nightly homework assignments.  The group agreed that teachers should try to post homework assignments as early as possible, ideally before the end of the school day. Meanwhile, you can help your child by asking, “Do you have all the information that you need to do your work?” 
Too Many Tests in A Day: Parents called for the teachers to coordinate so there was not so much overlap in tests on the same day.
Too Much Unnecessary Homework: A parent, who was also a psychologist, pointed out that there is “zero correlation between the amount of homework a child does and achievement.” 
Need Creative Thinking: A parent complained that there is not a lot of time for free thought at this school - it’s very structured. 
Come join us for the next Wellness pre-meeting, which will be held before the PTA meeting on January 14, 2015. It will be led by Ms. Hennessy of the Counseling Dept., and the topic will be Regulating Technology Use.