Better Health for Back-to-School

Major transitions are especially stressful.

By Dr. Julie La Barba
Medical Director
Culinary Health Education for Families

The start of the school year can both excite and overwhelm us. Major transitions like suddenly becoming the new kid in school, or entering middle or high school, are especially stressful – and bring on real anxiety that can cause sleep problems. Time crunches from new schedules add even more stress for students and parents alike, making nutritious family meals more of a “maybe” than a norm.

A Bit of Science

Night after night of shortened sleep creates a “sleep deficit.” When we’re not working with a full tank of zzzs, it’s harder to concentrate on school work and other activities. Add stress into the mix and look out for mood swings, overeating and eventual weight gain. It’s hard to believe, but too little sleep and too much stress can be partially responsible for piling on extra pounds.

Why? Sleep deprivation and the inability to manage stress play key roles in metabolism. After we go to sleep, our body stays awake to get things done, like regenerating cells and relaxing muscles. But when we don’t get enough sleep, our body has to do those things in addition to giving us energy for whatever’s keeping us up.

That’s why tired and stressed-out people often feel hungrier than normal, and crave fat, salt and sugar. (Hence the late-night snack.)

Back-to-school schedules and commitments can make adequate sleep and nutritious family meals seem an impossible task. But it can be done – and should be to keep you all on track to a calmer, more productive school year.

Parents: You can only do your best

Try as we might, we can’t control the people around us – including our kids. But we can be a positive influence. To be the wind beneath your star student’s wings this year:

  1. Encourage more sleep.
  2. Help them (and yourself) find ways to manage stress.
  3. Plan ahead for healthier meals.