3 back-to-school sleep tips for children, teens
The morning rush before school can be chaotic on the best days. And after a summer of staying up late and sleeping in, getting your children to bed earlier — and up on time for school — may feel overwhelming.
Local doctors recommend getting your children back on track now, rather than waiting until the last minute. With the start of school a couple of weeks away, there’s still time for a gradual transition back to regular sleep schedules.
A good night’s sleep plays an important role in many areas of life, from learning and comprehension to behavior and moods, according to Kimberly Mebust, MD, Executive Medical Director of MultiCare Sleep Centers.
School-aged children should aim for 10–11 hours per night, teens should get 8–9 and adults 7–8, Dr. Mebust said.
“A lot of parents are shocked to find out how much sleep a child needs,” she said.
Without good sleep, children and teens may have difficulty concentrating in school and feel irritable and cranky. Eventually, poor sleep can lead to poor performance on tests, as well as behavior problems — even obesity.
Bruce Oriel, MD, a pediatrician at Mary Bridge Pediatrics Union Avenue, likes to remind children that sleep is important for their growth and development.
“I always tell kids you want to get sleep so you can grow well,” he said.
It can be a difficult transition from irregular summer sleep schedules to regimented school-year bedtimes. Here are some tips for getting your children back to a regular sleep schedule in time for that all-important first day of school.
1. Make it gradual.
Unless your child’s bedtime routine hasn’t changed much over the summer, don’t wait until the night before school starts to move your child’s bedtime. It will only frustrate you both, and make that first day of school even tougher.
“It’s hard to take a kid who’s been staying up till midnight to go to bed at 9,” Dr. Oriel said. “You’re not going to be very successful if you only give it two or three days.”
Dr. Mebust agrees.
“The longer children have to adjust, the better,” she said.
Try moving your child’s bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night over the course of a couple of weeks — or at least a week — to make for a more realistic and gradual change.
2. Limit screen time.
Studies have linked bedtime screen use with increased time to fall asleep, decreased REM sleep, suppressed levels of melatonin and other adverse effects — making it even more important to keep kids’ phones out of their rooms.
Screens include phones, tablets, light-emitting e-books and even television. They all emit “blue light,” which suppresses the production of melatonin, the primary hormone that triggers sleepiness.
“Blue light is a more stimulatory light pattern for our brains,” Dr. Mebust said.
Dr Oriel recommends avoiding screens entirely at least an hour before bedtime. If your child wants to read before bed, printed books are a better option.
3. Stick to a schedule, even on the weekends.
It’s important to keep a routine going, even on the weekends when it’s tempting to stay up a little later and sleep in.
“The number-one behavioral reason we see kids not get enough sleep is a lack of consistency, a lack of routine,” Dr Oriel said.
Dr. Mebust recommends weekend sleep/wake times be no more than an hour later than usual. So if your children normally go to bed at 9pm on weekdays, make sure they’re in bed by 10pm on the weekends, at the latest.
It’s a challenging task to stick to a bedtime routine, Dr. Oriel said, so just try to stick to it as much as possible. If you miss a day here and there, it’s not the end of the world.
“You just do the best you can do,” he said.
Is your child getting enough sleep but still tired?
If you know your child is getting an adequate amount of sleep but still acts cranky, tired, has trouble focusing or needs to take naps, it may be a sign of a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders are treatable and can be diagnosed by taking part in a sleep evaluation.
Contact Mary Bridge Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at 253-792-6630 to learn more and schedule an evaluation.
This story was originally published in August 2015 and updated in August 2017.
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