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Enter the Bright Schools Competition and Learn About the Links Between Light, Sleep and Health

Seven tips for healthy sleep habits



Sleep is vital for our brains, perhaps especially for the brains of growing teens. Lack of sleep can limit our ability to learn and concentrate, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Drowsiness affects every aspect of our health, from our propensity for illness and our ability to manage stress to our food choices, behavior, and driver safety. At the same time, natural light during the day has been shown to positively impact students’ sleep, health and school performance.

So, what can we do to ensure that the children and teens in our lives get the sleep their bodies and minds need? Here are seven habits that have helped my family with sleep.

Establish and stick to a bedtime routine

Many children appreciate predictability in their schedules. Saying good-bye to the day in a peaceful and consistent way can set the tone for restful and rejuvenating sleep.

Try to enact a predictable bedtime with routinized, calming activities, such as a warm bath, transitional songs, lullabies, bedtime stories, or a special and consistent way of tucking your children in. It’s never too late to start a new routine, and you may be surprised at how comforting this habit remains into the teen years. Of course, we allowed for occasional late nights, but we found that having a routine helped us all with sleep as well as family bonding.

Allow enough transition time at bedtime

Transitions are harder for some kids than for others. Be sure to include enough time to wind down and enough time to sleep.

Older children need time for transitions, too. Try to have them stop their homework, turn off technology and leave a half hour for quiet reading, reflecting or family sharing before bed.

Get enough hours of sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get approximately 8-10 hours of sleep. Most teens not only fail to get the recommended amount of sleep, but tax themselves with a full slate of academics and extra-curricular activities, which requires extra sleep. If your kids seem tired during the day, consider saying “no” to more activities, in favor of getting adequate sleep.

Don’t neglect to lead by example – be sure to get enough sleep yourself.

Follow the patterns of natural light

In traditional cultures, people’s daily rhythms matched those in nature, and it’s still best to imitate this as closely as possible. Bedrooms should be dark and quiet in the evenings. Use eye shades and ear plugs if necessary. Likewise, natural light in the morning signals your body to wake up.

This is something we’ve always done in our house, but through the Bright Schools Competition, I also learned that natural light is especially important for mental alertness during the day. One study showed that natural light in the classroom improved students’ test scores by as much as 26%.

Ensure that bedrooms are technology-free

For most kids, computers and phones in bedrooms are so tempting that they’ll pass up sleep in order to stay on their devices. Even if they’re not in use, the blue light from computer and other screens can prevent the body’s release of melatonin, which is crucial for sleep. Keep the devices outside of the bedrooms, to charge up overnight as you do. Consider using inexpensive travel alarm clocks instead of phone alarms.

Tackle your problems before going to bed

Give some thought before bedtime to your to-do list and anything that’s bothering you, to prevent those thoughts from keeping you awake. Jot notes on a pad to read in the morning. Likewise, try to prepare as best you can for the morning – have backpacks packed and permission slips signed. Lay out kids’ clothes. Make ahead what you can for lunch.

Advocate for later school start times

Between their natural circadian rhythms, which keep them up late, and early school start times, teens are perpetually sleep-deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation. We can help them by ensuring that they get all the sleep they can in the time allotted by their schedules and by teaching them to budget their time to prevent as many late-night homework sessions as possible.

Read more tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Read more about teens and sleep.

Learn more about how light effects sleep.

Learn more about and enter the Bright Schools Competition for students in grades 6-8. Winning teams will be awarded as much as $5,000 per team member, and teachers of winning teams will be awarded as much as $3,000 in prize value.

Bright Schools Competition materials have been created by the National Sleep Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association and include lesson plans to help students explore the effect of light on sleep and circadian rhythms, while participating in important STEM education. Teams can engage in original research to create videos, reports or advocacy campaigns.

Put together a team and spread the word about the Bright Schools Competition today!

The Bright Schools Competition is designed for students in grades 6-8. Registration is now open and the submission deadline is January 29, 2016. For more information on the competition, including eligibility requirements, visit www.BrightSchoolsCompetition.org.


This content was made possible by Volunteer Spot and the Bright Schools Competition. Views expressed are my own.


Join Project Feeder Watch and Other Fun Citizen Science Activities

Do you have enjoy observing nature and have 15 minutes to spare? If so, you can be a citizen scientist. Over the past few years, citizen science has really taken off, allowing ordinary people to help scientists and organizations track the count and behaviors of birds, butterflies, bats, bees, wildflowers, weather and celestial phenomena, and much more. After all, researchers can’t be everywhere, and many of us have habitats in our backyards and neighborhoods that can help others gain important information about nature.

And, if that isn’t enough, citizen science makes a fun family or classroom activity, getting naturalists of all ages and abilities  outdoors together and providing them with something to do and a way to feel helpful and a part of the Earth’s larger ecosystem. Don’t let the name intimidate you. All you need to participate in citizen science is the desire to observe nature to the best of your ability for a period of time and record what you see.

There are multiple projects to engage citizen scientists, year-round and covering multiple interests. Cornell’s Project Feeder Watch starts November 10 and runs through early April.

These are just a few of the other wonderful citizen science projects that can use your help:
Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count
The Great Backyard Bird Count
Great Sunflower Project
Acoustic Bat Monitoring
Ice Watch
Monarch Watch
Firefly Watch
NOAA Weather Observer Program
Project Budburst
National Wildlife Federation‘s Wildlife Watch
NASA Meteor Count
Snow Tweets
Hummingbird Migration Map


Still looking for more fun citizen science projects? Check out SciStarter or Cornell’s Citizen Science Central.

You might also enjoy:

Join the Great Sunflower Project

Have Fun Attracting and Helping Bees, Butterflies and Birds

2010 Great Backyard Bird Count

Photos: Owl Butterfly, Susan Sachs Lipman; European Starling and Northern Flicker, Pam Koch; Bee on Sunflower, Susan Sachs Lipman

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