‘Sleep debt’ effects school routine

Reina P. Cunningham reinacunningham@civitasmedia.com

August 21, 2014

Children throughout the Tri-State area have spent the past few weeks transitioning into the back-to-school routine.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), school-aged children need to get at least 10 hours of sleep a day, teens need between nine and 10 hours while adults can get by with seven to eight hours per day.

Unfortunately busy schedules often make it impossible for children or their parents to get the recommended amount of sleep. Between work, school, homework, practices for various extracurricular activities and religious commitments, our readers report that they get as few as four hours of sleep a night while some children get as little as six hours.

Reader Ashley Veach says her family gets more sleep than some readers report but still just shy of the NIH recommended hours of sleep.

“I usually get about six hours and the girls get about eight,” said Veach.

These hours fair well compared to others when taken into account Veach has three children, works night shift and just began nursing school.

The NIH explains that your total sleep lost is what is referred to as “sleep debt.” This number is calculated when you routinely lose sleep or choose to sleep less than needed and the sleep loss adds up. For example, if you lose two hours of sleep each night, you’ll have a sleep debt of 14 hours after a week.

One way the NIH reports that people deal with sleepiness from their sleep debt is by napping. Although the NIH states naps may provide a short-term boost in alertness and performance it also points out that naps do not provide all of the other benefits of night-time sleep, therefore you can not really make up for lost sleep.

Readers who responded to the Middlesboro Daily News poll about the amount of sleep their families get say that they do not nap on a regular basis and it appears that only younger kids nap daily.

“Ella (who is in pre-K) has a short nap at school but that’s it, no one else in the family does,” said Jessica Poore.

“Kadin (second grade) does sometimes and I would love a nap but (it’s) not happening,” said Judy Seals.

While some schools still allow younger children nap time, others no longer incorporate naps into the school system.

Other ways people try to lower their sleep debt is to sleep more on their days off than on work days, but according to the NIH sleeping more on days off might be a sign that you are not getting enough sleep. Although extra sleep on days off might help you feel better, it can upset your body’s sleep-wake rhythm.

Bad sleep habits and long-term sleep loss can affect a person’s health so the quicker parents and students can get adjusted during the new school year, the better.

Reina P. Cunningham may be reached at 606-902-2100 or on Twitter @ReinaMDN.