Science has shown that children of all ages need quality sleep to do well at school, perform better in sports, and have enough energy to be fully present for their lives. It isn’t easy though, convincing your teenagers that they should go to bed early… and be happy about it! Like us when we were that age, many teens believe they can exist on minimal sleep — and get away with it. They even brag about it. The only time some teens want to sleep, it seems, is at the weekend, when they will stay in bed until lunchtime or beyond if left to their own devices.
As a child growing up in Faribault, Minnesota, I never thought about sleep. None of us did. I loved playing outdoors with my older sister and brother when we weren’t in school. There was a structured evening routine in our house, and I was out like a light as soon as my head hit the pillow at 8 p.m. That changed in high school. Like my friends, I indulged in my evening activities and often stayed up late without giving it a second thought. Of course, we know teenagers are going to have late nights sometimes, which is fine, as long as they get enough rest consistently. Problems set in when young people are habitually sleep-deprived; prolonged, consistently poor sleep habits can have a detrimental impact on overall health and performance.
None of us knew that when we were in school or even in our early careers. I personally thought any sleep beyond what you could get by with was a waste of precious time. It was a badge of honor to sleep for a few hours and accomplish a lot. Unfortunately, there are still many driven entrepreneurs (and teens too) who think that is true. I was ambitious and thought success required long hours, so I would set my alarm clock for 4 a.m., go to work early, then stay up late. Conversely, my late husband George always loved sleep. He would say, “Sleep is a gift and one of the greatest parts of the day!”
George was right. In 2007, when I joined Sleep Number (then called Select Comfort), I came to realize that sleep is a key pillar of health. I am committed to changing society’s perception of sleep and feel a responsibility to our next generation, so that they value quality sleep from a young age. In fact, Sleep Number has made a commitment to improving the lives of a million kids by 2025 by changing the way they think about sleep — and their sleeping habits. On a broader, cultural level we need to redirect the conversation in a radical way. We are elevating new role models for our kids — role models who know a rested body is a body built to perform, and who want to talk about it. Athletes like Minnesota Vikings’ place kicker Dan Bailey, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, and Houston Astros pitcher Jason Verlander, to name a few, have all discussed the value of quality sleep and how it impacts performance. We are creating a new badge of honor so that teenagers understand sleep is not only cool, it’s the key to being their best, every day!
Getting the eight to 10 hours of shut-eye per night recommended for children isn’t only beneficial, it is crucial for their health at a young age and throughout their lives. Scientists are clear on that point; Kristen Knutson, Ph.D., associate professor at the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University, has a special interest in the subject, and was the co-author of a study that found over half of 15- to 17-year-olds and almost a third of 12- to 14-year-olds were getting seven hours or less sleep per night. “Given the importance of sleep for physical and mental health, as well as school performance, this should be a big concern to parents, educators, and pediatricians alike,” she tells me.
But Knutson is optimistic. “The good news — we have found that there are strategies to help kids get the sleep they need.” She mentions stopping teenagers from using electronics before (and after) they go to bed as well as maintaining a regular bedtime. “If a family learns how to prioritize and support healthy sleep habits, everyone wins,” Knutson says.
At Sleep Number, we’ve recently conducted an eight-week study with 50 middle and high school student volunteers to review the impact of establishing those healthy habits. Specifically, that meant the teenagers practiced having a consistent sleep schedule for the duration of the study and a relaxing nighttime routine, avoiding screen time for an hour before bed (or using blue-blocker glasses). They were also exposed to at least 15 minutes of bright light first thing in the morning.
Working with our partners, the youth health and wellness non-profit GENYOUth and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, we found 93 percent of the participants reported “better sleep.” Seventy-seven percent reported at least one positive mood change. They found that when they included next-morning preparations in their bedtime routine, like picking out clothes, they felt less stressed and more prepared for the day ahead.
These findings are encouraging. They show that the younger generation is enthused about sleep and that when teens learn about the science, they understand how important sleep is to their overall balance and well-being far more than previous generations. It starts with parents talking about sleep when their children are very young and demonstrating how much they value sleep themselves. Kids learn by example, so it’s important that the adults set up a healthy environment around sleep at home. An earlier study we conducted found that parents with technology in the bedroom were more likely to have children with technology in their own bedrooms. Parents need quality sleep too, and it is important for them to demonstrate commitment to their own evening routines and practices — staying away from phones and laptops when bedtime approaches, and simply making sleep a top priority.
I know from personal experience that attitudes are changing. Most of my great-nieces and nephews view sleep in a positive way because their parents (with a little extra encouragement from me) prioritize sleep. Along with my team, I was inspired to improve bedtime routines for parents and kids. Having a great bed for parents wasn’t enough, and we created the world’s first smart bed for children: the SleepIQ Kids Bed. This bed is designed to solve many of the problems parents and kids face with basic sleep and bedtime issues.
The beds encourage good sleep habits and attitudes from an early age. Kids are excited about going to bed. They can see their SleepIQ score every day and see how well they’ve slept. There’s a reward system built in. You can set an alarm to let you know it’s time for their bedtime routine. If they brush their teeth, put pajamas on, and read a story in 30 minutes, they will earn stars. You can keep evolving and changing that rewards system as the child grows. Whatever bed your kids have, you can always instill good habits and have fun with bedtime schedules.
It is rewarding to live our mission at Sleep Number, which is improving lives by individualizing sleep experiences. To date, we’ve improved more than 12 million lives and we are only getting started. It is especially rewarding when you can impact someone at an early age as you know that their commitment to quality sleep will remain for their entire life. I recall spending time with one of the Minnesota Vikings interns. His name is J.T., and he’s a talented young football player studying at Princeton University. We discussed the importance of sleep and how it can give you a competitive edge. He took the conversation to heart. By the end of the summer, J.T. said his most important takeaway from the internship was understanding how quality sleep can make a difference to his academic and athletic performance.
Like J.T., I want all young people to realize their full potential. Instead of kids proudly sharing with friends and classmates how they “pulled an all-nighter” to complete a homework assignment or binge watch Netflix, then made it through the day on caffeine, they will be sharing how well they slept, followed by how well they performed.
At Sleep Number we take pride in our SleepIQ scores and share them every day. I want kids to be comparing notes on how great they feel after a good night’s sleep. I am urging parents and young people to help change the world, by making it happier, kinder, and more energized through high quality sleep.
Sleep well, dream big,
P.S. My SleepIQ score was an 88 last night!