Back-to-school tips from Indiana University experts

  • Aug. 11, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- August is here, and that means students of all ages and parents throughout the state are settling into a back-to-school routine. But switching from summer leisure to the school grind can be stressful.

Indiana University has a number of experts who can provide insight on back-to-school topics such as screen time for children, sleep and time management.

Limit children's screen time

Electronic media is everywhere. Be it tablets and laptops in the classroom, 24-hour television channels, a plethora of video game options or a multitude of social media outlets, electronics are hard to avoid.

But parents should be concerned with how much screen time their child is receiving, said Nicole Martins, assistant professor at IU’s Media School.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children younger than 2 and no more than two hours per day for children older than 2. But according to national research, children age 8 to 18 are spending more than seven hours a day on average with mass media.

“To put this number into context, this means that some American children spend more time with the media than any other activity except sleeping,” Martins said. “When you account for hours in school, kids are really working ‘overtime’ with the number of hours they devote to media alone: over 40 hours per week.”

As a parent, Martins said she understands how difficult it can be to keep screen time to a minimum. One good way to encourage children to put down the devices, she said, is for parents to model the behavior they wish to see. Keep televisions out of children’s bedrooms, she said, and try to monitor what your child is watching or playing.

“A key predictor of child media habits is parental media habits,” she said. “If you don't want your tween on her cell phone at dinner, then don’t use your phone at the dinner table, either.”

When it comes to college, Martins said she encourages her students to put away the laptop and take notes using a pen and paper.

“I tell them every semester that part of being an adult is learning to control your impulses,” she said. “There is a false belief that students are good at multitasking. The thing is, as adults, we are really very bad at it. Your brain can only do so much at one time.”

Other tips for managing your child’s screen time:

  • Set screen time limits and stick to them.
  • Create “screen free” zones for the whole family: remove media from bedrooms and keep screens away from the dinner table.
  • Try to be aware of what media your child is using. If you see your child playing a violent video game, use the game as an opportunity to discuss with your child what you might find troubling about the content.
  • Use media wisely by hosting a family movie or game night.

Martins can be reached at or 812-855-7720. Top

Routine is key to a good night’s sleep

With the school year back in swing, it can be difficult for some children to make the switch from sleeping in late to getting up with the sun.

Although the best time to start a back-to-school sleep routine is before the school year begins, Shalini Manchanda said it is never too late to establish good sleeping habits.  

“Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic,” said Manchanda, director of the Sleep Medicine Program at the IU School of Medicine and Indiana University Health. “Sleep is vital to good health; it impacts performance and interpersonal interaction. Getting enough sleep should be a priority for everyone. "

A lack of sleep can lead not only to a long day and difficulty performing daily tasks, it can also result in serious health issues such hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity and some forms of cancer.

In teens and college-age students, a lack of sleep can also result in accidents, poor judgment, slow responses, poor coordination, mood swings, difficulty with recall, and tardiness or absences.

“Pulling an ‘all-nighter’ is quite common for college-age young adults,” she said. “It is recommended that young adults get seven to nine hours of sleep. Sleep disruption can interfere with the strengthening of memory after learning.”

And forget trying to “catch up on sleep”; Manchanda said it doesn’t really work that way. As soon as we wake up, we accrue a “sleep debt” that can only be repaid by sleeping.

“The longer we stay awake, the greater the desire is to fall asleep,” she said. “The longer the period of wakefulness, the debt is repaid with a deeper stage of sleep. However, we do not repay the debt hour for hour.”

Tips for a good night’s sleep:

  • Maintain a sleep schedule -- the same bedtime and wake-up time on weekdays and weekends allow your body’s clock to regulate vital physiologic functions.
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco products, drugs and caffeine before bedtime as all can adversely affect the quality of your sleep.
  • Practice a bedtime ritual. Having a wind-down routine gives your body the signal that it is time to fall asleep. This is especially helpful if falling asleep is a problem.
  • Avoid watching television or using electronic devices that emit blue light right before bedtime, which can lower your melatonin level and interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
  • If you are unable to fall asleep, it is best to get up and go to another room and read (not on an e-reader) until you feel sleepy.

Manchanda can be reached at or 317-963-0555. Top

Write it down to master the art of time management

As school activities ramp up, time can be hard to come by.

But a little planning can make a big difference, according to Deb Getz, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Applied Health Science in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.

Organization is the key to time management, she said, so keep notes.

“The most common traits I see among successful students is that they write everything down in a planner, they refer to their planner regularly, and they find ways to fit healthy behaviors into their lives including exercise, healthy diet and sleep,” Getz said.

It also takes time to manage time, Getz said, so make a plan to look ahead at the things you need to accomplish. Getz encourages her students to find a friend who is also interested in planning and time management, and to take time to turn off electronic devices, relax and clear your head. It also helps to live a healthful lifestyle, she said. 

“Getting enough sleep, eating well and getting enough exercise are the keys to success,” she said. “If you feel well, your time can be used more effectively.”

Tips for time management:

  • Give yourself credit. Allow for 30 minutes once a week (generally on Sunday) to review your coming week and coming month appointments.
  • Write it down. Don't try to remember everything -- have one place where you can write down assignments, appointments and other important information.
  • Save money. Good time managers can plan ahead; packing a lunch or snack from home is cheaper than buying out. If you want to really use your planner well, consider adding room for tracking your spending. 
  • Be patient. Successful time management skills are developed over time. 
  • Make time. Every time you say or think "I don't have enough time," write down why or what you don't have time for. Then, during your planning time, evaluate what you need to include in next week's schedule.

Getz can be reached at or 812-855-9072. Top

For additional assistance on these back-to-school items, contact April Toler at 812-856-3006 or Follow Health & Vitality news from Indiana University on Twitter and the Health & Vitality blog.

Nicole Martins

Nicole Martins

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Shalini Manchanda

Shalini Manchanda

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Media Contacts

April  Toler