Sometime back in July most parents were given a list of school supplies for the upcoming year. Specific descriptions of just the right paper, pencils, crayons and calculators were provided to get them ready to start a new school year. However, on that list they did not find one of the most essential supplies students of all ages need. They were not given the key to unlocking a vital component in the success of their child’s school year. That being the key to preparing their child for a good night’s sleep following a long summer of sleeping in and staying up late.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) offers a list of recommendations to assure a child gets the healthy sleep they need to learn, function and grow. The week or two before classes return is a good time to start getting your child back on track with their sleep.
Many schools in the area start early in the morning and that makes healthy sleep for a child a challenge. Don’t wait until school starts to prepare for the change in bed time, the AASM recommends a gradual transition in the upcoming weeks. A sudden change could make it difficult for him or her to fall asleep. Instead, slowly start making the bedtime earlier; pushing it forward by 5 to 15 minutes each day and waking the child up earlier using the same incremental times. Kids aged seven to twelve need 10 to 11 hours of sleep, while older kids need 8 to 9 hours. Once a sleep schedule is determined, stick to it, don’t use the weekend to “catch up on sleep.”
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Start “quiet time” 1 hour to 1.5 hours prior to bedtime to allow your child to unwind. Include activities like a bath, brushing teeth, bedtime stories for young children or reading time for older children. This is the time to limit television, video games, and other electronic distractions, especially in bed. The bright light emitted by the devices can signal to the body that it should be awake and alert.
In addition to removing nighttime technology from the bedroom, avoid food and drinks with caffeine. A good rule of thumb is to limit pop and caffeinated drinks after 3 p.m. These drinks in the evening can interrupt your child’s natural sleep pattern, making it difficult to fall asleep. A heavy meal prior to bed can also make it difficult for your child to fall asleep.
Provide for your child a peaceful bedroom environment. Keep the room dark and a room temperature that is neither too hot nor too cold. Electronic distractions like televisions, computers, or video games should be removed from your child’s room and set up in a different location.
Helping children realize that sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle is important for their future, as poor sleep can increase the risk of physical health problems throughout their life. These include obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Be a role model, set a good example for your child. Establish your own regular sleep routine.
If a consistent sleep schedule and good sleep hygiene do not appear to help your child achieve healthy sleep, your child may be suffering from a chronic sleep problem. Talk to your child’s doctor or see a sleep medicine physician who has specialized training and expertise to diagnosis and treat all forms of sleep illness.
The sooner your child readjusts to a school-time sleep-schedule, the better he or she will feel in the classroom putting to use their new school supplies.
Lisa Taylor is a sleep technologist at Mercy Health–St. Rita’s Sleep Center.