Rise and Shine – Time to Get Back On School Sleep Schedule
Baylor sleep expert offers tips to help students transition back to sleep schedule as the semester starts
WACO, Texas (Aug. 16, 2023) – Back to school means leaving the laid-back schedule of staying up late and sleeping in behind.
As students head back to class, they may feel challenged by the adjustment of waking up early to make it to class on time. This is especially true of adolescents, whose natural sleep pattern tends to be late to bed and late to wake, said Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. Regardless of age, a better sleep schedule can improve a student’s cognition and grades.
“What you find in the research is that the more variable your schedule, the worse your cognition will be,” Scullin said, “and that’s a minus for students shooting for good grades.”
Scullin recommends the following tips for getting back into a healthy sleep routine.
• Get a head start on switching back.
“If you go to bed after midnight on Sunday before class starts, it’s going to be a tough Monday,” Scullin said. “It’s very hard to shift your schedule overnight.”
Parents can help their children acclimate that first week of class by preparing them over a few nights with bedtimes that progressively approximate the regular school schedule. Similarly, older students can reset their sleep cycle by going to bed a little earlier each night in preparation for the semester's start.
• More daylight in the morning.
“Getting 20 minutes of natural sunlight in the morning hours helps to set circadian rhythms and makes you feel more alert during the day,” Scullin said. This also helps adjust to a new schedule.
• Dim bright lights.
In contrast to getting more daylight during the day, having a darker room to sleep also helps. The light from phones, tablets, laptops and television disrupts the sleep cycle, so if possible, shut down early – or even consider a device-free zone at night, Scullin suggests. To block exterior light, try blackout curtains.
• Opt for quiet.
Try to sleep in a quiet space. If this is not possible, a white noise machine can be helpful, or earplugs are a good, inexpensive solution to muffle outside noises, he said.
• Eat healthy meals and avoid caffeine later in the day.
Scullin suggests enjoying any caffeinated drinks in the morning and eating a healthy dinner.
“Research shows that food high in saturated fats interferes with quality sleep,” Scullin said. “Foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fats are better.”
• Write away your worries.
“A lot of students have anxiety about school, both from the academic side and the social side,” Scullin said. “Anxiety can interfere with good sleep.”
In a recent study, he found that taking five minutes to write a “to-do” list at bedtime helped student participants fall asleep about 10 minutes faster than others who used that time to chronicle completed activities.
• Practice stimulus control.
If someone is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, they should avoid the temptation to keep looking at the clock. Instead, getting out of bed and doing some low-energy activity with the lights dimmed or off can help you feel sleepy and get back to sleep, Scullin said. This is called “stimulus control,” and it’s one of the best empirically-supported ways to improve your sleep.
All of these tips can help students get back on a healthy sleep schedule, which improves brain function and leads to higher grades and more positive experiences.
“When I sleep well, I feel rewarded,” Scullin said. “I attribute that to sleep.”
ABOUT BAYLOR SLEEP RESEARCHER MICHAEL K. SCULLIN, PH.D.
Michael K. Scullin’s research investigates how sleep physiology impacts memory, cognition and health. He also is interested in how we use memory to fulfill our daily intentions (a special kind of memory called “prospective” memory), including whether reminder apps and other technological solutions can reduce prospective memory difficulties in older age and the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
ABOUT SLEEP NEUROSCIENCE AND COGNITION LABORATORY AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory investigates how cognitive and behavioral processes change across time through two lines of inquiry that often intersect: 1. What are the sleep and circadian-based underpinnings of cognition, health, and human flourishing? 2. Why does cognition change with aging and Alzheimer’s disease, and how can smart technology be leveraged to support prospective memory, longevity and quality of life?
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.
ABOUT THE COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments in the sciences, humanities, fine arts and social sciences, as well as 11 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. The College’s undergraduate Unified Core Curriculum, which routinely receives top grades in national assessments, emphasizes a liberal education characterized by critical thinking, communication, civic engagement and Christian commitment. Arts & Sciences faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit the College of Arts & Sciences website.