Stories about: sleep

Getting their Zs: Helping students learn about good sleep habits

student sleep campaign

The Lee School in Dorchester launches its Sleep Campaign.

Boston Public School’s Joseph Lee School in Dorchester serves nearly 700 children in K-8. Many of them are missing a vital element in ensuring their academic success and overall health—sleep!

“We have many children coming late to school, and some are falling asleep in class. It’s clear that many children are not getting enough sleep the night before,” says Principal Kim Crowley. Elementary school-aged children need 10-11 hours of sleep each night; middle and high school students need 8.5-9.5 hours.

An early start time at the school—hours are 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.—may be a factor, particularly for older students. But the home environment also contributes. “Some children share a bedroom with a sibling or an adult who stays up later,” says Suzanne Costello, LICSW, a social worker who’s been at the Lee School for the past nine years through Boston Children’s Hospital’s Neighborhood Partnerships Program (CHNP), a community-based behavioral health program.

For the past 13 years, CHNP has partnered with Boston schools. Clinicians like Costello are placed in school settings to provide an array of comprehensive behavioral health services and support schools to better meet the needs of their students.

Costello has observed other reasons impacting sleep. “Some kids can’t get restful sleep until they hear a parent coming home from a night-shift job.”

Then there is the use of technology. TVs are on or music is playing in bedrooms, along with ever-present devices—laptops, tablets and smartphones—and the lures of gaming and social media. “Lack of sleep is a universal problem, but it has been exacerbated by the prevalence of technology and social media,” agrees Crowley.

To help students be more ready to learn in the morning, the Lee School has experimented with a number of options, including early-morning exercise, a nutritious breakfast and now a sleep campaign.

Sleep stealers

The school designated January and February as Sleep Awareness Months. Costello helped with developing materials and activities to raise awareness of the need for sufficient sleep and the “sleep stealers” that can sabotage it. Activities included in-class presentations, a poster contest and a “sleep stealer challenge” for students and teachers and a special event for families. Participating students were eligible for drawings to win prizes such as a comforter and sheet sets, pillows and white noise machines.

The sleep campaign is a natural for the school and Boston Children’s to support. “Lack of sleep is a problem for everyone in the school, including teachers,” says Costello. “A school-wide campaign, using existing channels of communication and classroom time, makes sense. For Boston Children’s, part of our mission is to support children in the community so they can be the best they can be. We know that behavioral health and physical health and academic success are interconnected. And we know that getting enough sleep is an important part of wellness, just like eating well and exercise.”

Even Principal Crowley took the sleep stealer challenge. “I am the poster child for poor sleep patterns,” says Crowley. Her biggest problem was checking emails during the night. So she challenged herself to remove her smartphone from the bedroom. “It took me a few nights to realize that reading emails at night isn’t essential!”

Why Sleep Matters

A 2014 National Sleep Foundation study of families found that, on average, parents reported their school-aged children were getting 1.5-2 hours less sleep than recommended.

A 2010 National Science Foundation study found that children, especially those who live in poor neighborhoods and come from more economically disadvantaged homes, tend to benefit more when they sleep better and tend to suffer more when their sleep is poor.

student sleep campaign 2

Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Adam Foss reads a bedtime story to Lee School students.

What’s the big deal about sleep?

Be smart: sleep improves concentration, memory and brain performance

Have a better mood: sleep restores the body and helps manage stress and irritability

Fight off germs: sleep helps your body fight off colds and flu

Avoid weight gain: lack of sleep weakens communication between your brain and stomach and you are more likely to overeat

Stay Awake: More sleep = less daytime sleepiness


The Lee School received funding to implement the sleep campaign from the Office of Community Health’s Community Partnership Fund.  For more information on the Community Partnership Fund, visit

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6 ways your child’s bedroom may be sabotaging her sleep

Dennis Rosen, MDLet’s face it: we all know that sometimes getting our kids into bed is only half the struggle when it comes to having them fall asleep. They may lie there, tucked in but not sleeping, or toss and turn for hours. But is your child’s bedroom the reason she’s not getting enough rest?

Here are a number of things to look for in your child’s bedroom, which may be interfering with her ability to fall asleep at night:

Too much light.

Bright light, especially in the evening, has a very powerful awakening effect on the brain. Make sure the bedroom lights are dim, or better yet turned off completely. If your child reads before going to bed, use a low-wattage lamp. If a night-light is needed, use the lowest wattage you can find (no more than 7 watts) and make sure that the light it casts does not shine directly on the bed. In the summer months, when you may be trying to put younger kids to bed before the sun has set, consider using light-blocking shades or curtains.

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Understanding Our Children’s Dreams

Dennis Rosen, MD is the associate medical director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital and author of Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids.

Dennis Rosen, MD

We all dream during sleep, some more vividly than others. While we may not always pay attention to what happens in some of our dreams, they can be extremely vivid, and associated with a wide range of emotions (sadness, fear, joy) that carries over into wakefulness. This is as true for adults as it is for children: in fact, many adults can recall in great detail dreams that they had decades earlier as children.

Throughout history, humans have viewed dreams and their content as significant, often making important decisions based upon them. Interestingly, though, the tendency of many in our modern society is to ignore them. Indeed, many parents dismiss their children’s dreams, particularly those that are disturbing, as being “only” dreams, instead of cause for reflection.

Kelly Bulkeley, former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and his mother Patricia Bulkley, whose doctoral dissertation was about the dreams of the dying, are the authors of the book Children’s Dreams: Understanding the Most Memorable Dreams and Nightmares of Childhood. This book is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in dreams, why they emerge, and how to try and make sense of their content.

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Could starting high school later be healthier for teens?

Lack of sleep can affect academic performance in teens.

According to experts, teenagers need a little more than eight hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, (surprise, surprise) most teens aren’t listening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that only 31 percent of high school students get eight or more hours of sleep on an average school night.

This is upsetting news because poor sleep is tied to a lot more than a teenager having a bad attitude when she’s tired. Insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk for chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity. Sleepy drivers are more likely to get in an accident, and sleepy students tend to do worse on tests than their well-rested peers. Teens who average less than eight hours of sleep per night are also more likely to drink, do drugs and indulge in inappropriate sexual behavior.

Clearly our teens need more sleep. But as any parent will tell you, telling a teenager to go to bed earlier is one thing—getting her to actually do it is something else all together.

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