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August 15, 2016 | Family Medicine • Sleep Medicine
Back-to-School Sleep Tips
Summer often means late nights full of movies, friends and games. But summer eventually ends and a new school year begins—which means a new bedtime routine. Getting the kids back into a consistent bedtime routine is a battle many parents face, but is a battle that can be won.
For many families, the first few weeks of school consists of sleepy mornings, irritability and failed efforts to get children to bed at a decent hour. The following tips can help you and your child transition into a proper sleep schedule for the new school year.
The first step in helping your child get back to a sleep schedule for the school year is determining just how much sleep they need for their age. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children and teens need significantly more sleep than adults to support their rapid mental and physical development. They recommend school-aged children ages 6 to 13 get 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Teenagers, ages 14 to 17, generally require 8 to 10 hours of sleep.
About two weeks before school starts, begin working with your child to get back on a school-time sleep schedule. Adjust their sleep schedule in gradual increments by setting an earlier bedtime each night and an earlier waking time each morning.
Kids need time to wind down after their day just like adults do. Establishing regular relaxation rituals will help your kids ease into a bedtime routine. Turn the television, video games and any other electronic devices off to create some quiet time. Relaxing activities could include bathtime, storytime or singing lullabies to your child. Make sure your child’s room is dark enough–with a night light if needed–as too much light can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Offering comfort items such as a stuffed animal or favorite blanket can help your child relax and feel comfortable in their own bed as well.
After teeth have been brushed, pajamas are on and stories have been read, be firm in ending the bedtime routine at a consistent time. Children will often ask for one more story, one more drink or one more trip to the bathroom. If your child keeps getting out of bed and making more requests, take them by the hand and lead them back to bed. Arguing or giving into extra requests is only doing one thing—delaying bedtime.
Going to bed with a stomach full of food or sugary drinks can make it more difficult for children to fall asleep. If your child is hungry before bedtime, a light, healthy snack is appropriate. You can offer your child some fruit, crackers, whole-grain cereal or yogurt. Having some food in their stomachs can give their bodies the energy they need to sleep well through the night.
If your child needs some extra motivation to get into a bedtime routine, you can create a reward system that is appropriate for your child’s age and understanding. You can include categories such as “brushes teeth well” and “goes to bed without a fight”. Just as many parents create charts with stickers for children as they are potty training, a reward chart may help ease your child into a bedtime routine and make it a more enjoyable experience for all.
The bedtime routine can involve the whole family. Having a routine for yourself, and any other children of different ages, may help your child feel more comfortable in getting into their own routine. You may brush your teeth together as a family or all sit down to read a story together. You may also establish regular going-to-bed and wake-up times for all members of the family to ensure everyone is getting the appropriate amount of sleep for their age.
Consistency is key. Once you and your child have established an effective sleep schedule and routine, stick with it! Try not to fluctuate on bed times too much or allow them to oversleep on the weekends.
Bedtime can be a daunting task for any parent or caretaker. Children often don’t realize how tired they may be and will resist bedtime at any cost. Following these tips may help in making bedtime a less stressful time of day for parents and children. Establishing a routine will help your child know when bedtime is coming and what is expected of them each night.
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The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.