Sleep, Screen Time, Social Media and Student Success

Character is more important than competence for our children’s success. In fact, character leads to greater competence through hard work, self-discipline, integrity, and other virtues, which help a child maximize his or her God-given abilities. 


Character does not just happen, it must be cultivated. For maximum benefit, good character needs to be reinforced with good life habits. One of those is getting enough sleep. National studies indicate that too many students are coming to school tired.

According to the CDC, too little sleep is common. About 69 out of 100 high school students get insufficient sleep — defined as seven hours of sleep or less on an average school night. In many cases, staying up too late is the culprit.

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In one National Sleep Foundation experiment, children were asked to go to bed later than normal for a week, and then were asked to spend no fewer than 10 hours in bed for another week. During the week of later bedtimes, teachers rated these kids as having more academic problems and more attention problems (even though the teachers didn’t know they had lost sleep). Many parents think their children go to bed early, but even 9:00 p.m. could be considered a late bedtime for an elementary school child.

As kids get older, sleepiness leads to slipping grades. In a study of roughly 1,000 children and preadolescents, researchers measured kids’ sleep and school performance and found that one of the best predictors of school failure was children’s fatigue (being difficult to arouse in the morning and falling asleep during the day). In another study of 3,000 high school students, those who reported higher grades had significantly more sleep time and earlier bedtimes on school nights than those with lower grades. Students reporting B’s or better got 17-33 minutes more sleep on school nights and went to bed 10-50 minutes earlier than students with C’s and below. Students with lower grades also went to bed on average 2.3 hours later on the weekends than on school nights, compared to A/B students, who went to bed 1.8 hours later on the weekends.

Screen Time and Social Media

A significant contributing factor to sleepiness is the amount of time students are spending on mobile devices, computers, and TV at night. Being in the bedroom or in the bed does not mean that they are sleeping.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports in a recent study that the average 8 to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with different media, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. Children who have a TV in their bedroom spend more time with media. About 75 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds own cell phones and nearly all teenagers use text messaging. 

Many children are permitted to have mobile phones, tablets, computers, and/or TV’s in their rooms at night. During this time they are engaging in substantial use of social media, unsupervised. School leaders know this because when investigating behavioral matters they often see social media posts and text messages posted late at night. This can lead to three negative outcomes:

  • Loss of sleep
  • Lower academic performance, and
  • Abusing or being abused through social media

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that while every child is slightly different in terms of how much sleep he or she may need, most require the following to be fully rested. Note that this is not time in the room or in bed, it is actual sleeping time.

Age Recommended
Preschoolers 3-5 years 10 to 13 hours
School-aged children 6-13 years 9 to 11 hours
Teenagers 14-17 years 8 to 10 hours
Young adults 18-25 years 7 to 9 hours

Assuming it takes about two hours from alarm to being in school, most children will be awakened at 6:00 a.m., which means that bedtimes would need to be approximately as follows (bedtime means no devices, no TV, no lights on; it means in bed to sleep) for children to get the minimum recommended amount of sleep. It is also worth noting that depending on the child, it may take 15 to 30 minutes to fall asleep, which moves the times below earlier by the same amount.

Preschoolers 3-5 years 8 p.m.
School-aged children 6-13 years 9 p.m.
Teenagers 14-17 years 10 p.m.
Young adults 18-25 years 11 p.m.

This will be a controversial statement for some but children do not have a right to privacy. Parents are accountable to the Lord for their parenting. Parents own the devices and pay the data plan. Parents not only have the right, but the responsibility to know what is on their children’s devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these recommendations for parents: Model effective “media diets” to help children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values. 

  • Model effective “media diets” to help children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values.
  • Make a media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices.
  • Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms. 


Children will be blessed and more successful when parents:

  • Foster the development of character,
  • Ensure they get enough sleep, and
  • Monitor and control their children’s use of social media.

More sleep, less screen time, and monitored social media are life-skills that will build upon good character to enhance children’s spiritual and secular success, now and later in life.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted to have said: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” It is a saying that is viewed as a commonsensical proverb, which was included in “A Method of Prayer” by Mathew Henry who also listed it as a phrase “long said.”

We want our children and students to be successful. While there are many factors that contribute to success, the most important is character and one of the first places to start building character is to develop early life skills, including getting enough sleep and monitoring and controlling the use of social media and other screen time.