The Importance of Healthy Sleep Habits

By The Challenge Success Team

In a recent Heartfelt letter, our Head of School Patricia Swenson outlined the key elements of our partnership with Challenge Success. Following the team’s trip to Boston, we have been working together and with our coach, Jen Cote, to narrow the focus of our work for this year. One topic that continues to bubble to the surface is sleep.

Challenge Success suggests that teens should sleep an average of 8-10 hours per night, and our girls are not sleeping at that level. Research also overwhelmingly agrees that people are more productive, less anxious, and healthier when they get the proper amount of sleep each night. This seems like an area that we can tackle as a community to better improve health and increase the academic success of our girls.

In “Why Healthy Sleep Habits Matter,” Kari Reidel and Samantha Selby state, “Getting enough sleep on a consistent basis is an essential part of physical and emotional well-being and sets students up to be active, engaged learners.” As the survey results suggest, our students are not practicing positive sleep hygiene which may be a root cause of other issues that crept into the survey. Students report that a high percentage have cheated in the last 30 days, with much of that attributed to working with or copying off of a friend. They also reported low engagement numbers with many girls falling into the category of “just doing school.” When the girls held their fishbowl presentation in early November, many commented on how draining and overwhelming it can be to participate in extracurricular activities.

Sleep can serve to repair or assist in repairing many of these issues. Our survey results were strikingly similar to reported norms from Challenge Success. Our girls reported that they sleep an average of 6.7 hours per night. Although this is slightly above the average that Challenge Success reports (6.5 hours per night), it is still well below the aforementioned 8-10 hours of needed sleep. From the surveys, parents reported that their daughters sleep 7.4 hours per night. This is consistent with Challenge Success findings: parents think their daughters sleep more than they do. Additionally, 95% of our students experienced a stress-related health symptom in the 30 days prior to the survey; 84% of our students reported exhaustion.

The most common major sources of stress for our girls are grades, tests, quizzes, finals, or other assessments (85% of students). Part of this can be attributed to the deeper issue of sleep. According to Reidel and Selby, memory consolidation, an important part of the learning process, actually takes place during sleep. As mentioned earlier, according to Challenge Success, girls are more engaged, have fewer health issues (and less school time lost to health-related absences), and show better academic performance when they have had a proper amount of sleep.

By being a community that values sleep, we are a community that values the health and wellness of our girls above everything else and sees academic achievement as a positive byproduct.

Sleep is not the only cause of stress or anxiety with our girls. In survey results, 74% identified both college and their future as well as overall workload and homework as additional causes of stress. We believe, and Challenge Success agrees, that we are addressing workload, homework, and stress related to tests and quizzes with our new schedule. The slower pace, fewer classes each day, and increased focus on academic skills are going to give girls more time in their day: more time to pursue extracurriculars, more time to pursue areas of interest outside of school, more time for family, and more time to sleep. The school is working on improving the learning environment; we ask you to help us work on improving the girls’ sleep hygiene. 

What can you do?

  • Challenge your daughter to get 8+ hours of sleep per night for one month. We have challenged ourselves and the faculty and staff to join in. Let’s be a healthier, more productive community.
  • Take electronics out of the room. Phones reduce the amount of sleep a student gets per night. We have had parents here at Duchesne try this and have been amazed at the results.
  • Try this time wheel exercise. Denise Pope did this exercise with the parents in attendance at her talk in February. It’s amazing to see that there is so little time in a day set aside for sleep.
  • Join our parent book club. Our parent team members, Liza Rivera and Melonie Dutton-Lewis will lead a discussion on Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.
  • Set a consistent bedtime each night. Determine when your daughter should be asleep based on when she needs to wake up in the morning. 
  • Make sure kids have 30 minutes before bed to unwind.
  • Make sleep a priority in your house.

Learn more

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