TMH Living Well: Getting kids sleep-ready for school

The Memorial Hospital

The first week of school can be exciting — that is if you can get your child out of bed to experience it. With the relaxed habit of sleeping in during the summer, kids often have a harsh wakeup call when school starts. Here are some tips on helping your kids get back into healthy school year sleep habits.

Going to bed at a decent time

Get your kids back into a healthy routine by adjusting their bedtime at least a few nights before school begins. If they are used to going to bed at 10:30 p.m., make it 10 tonight and 9:30 the next. If your middle-schooler has to get up at 6:30 a.m. to make the bus, he’ll need to be in bed by 9:30 to get his needed 9 hours. While it seems awkward to make your middle-schooler go to bed at about the same time as he did in elementary school, it’s necessary for his school success. Adolescents need at least 9 hours of sleep each night, while elementary school kids need closer to 10.

Create a calm evening setting

This might mean limiting how loud the stereo can play or keeping video games and phone use to a minimum. Help kids unplug by setting a rule that cell phones and other electronics are off limits at least an hour before bed. Reinforce this by storing cell phones on the kitchen table, not in the bedroom, during the night.

Establish a regular bedtime

Our brains like to go to bed and get up at the same time, every day. Many of our bodily functions are driven by our internal 24-hour clocks, like the release of hormones and body temperature. When we throw off our sleep patterns we throw off our circadian rhythm. In other words, if we train our children’s bodies and minds to fall asleep around the same time, they’ll naturally want to continue that routine. That’s why it is important to stick to a regular sleep schedule — preferably the same all week, including weekends.

Create a bedtime routine

Going through the same actions before bed helps signal your child’s brain to get sleepy. When your young daughter gets on her jammies, brushes her teeth and hears a story in a mellow tone with the lights down low, she knows it is bedtime. Keep her bedtime routine simple. Also, surround her with her favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Rub her back to help her unwind. Quiet, calming and reassuring conversation helps, too. Another great way to set a sleepy mood is a bath. Warm water has magical, relaxing powers.

Dim the lights at night, in the morning, let them shine bright

Bright light in the morning can actually shift a person’s sleep phase back, making them want to go to bed earlier. Maybe it’s time for new, lighter curtains or blinds.

Respect your teen’s unique needs

According to studies by the National Sleep Foundation, the typical high school student’s natural time to fall asleep is often around 11 p.m. Thanks to changes in their circadian rhythm during teen years, they’d also prefer to sleep until 10 a.m.—not an option on school days. Sleep researchers found a correlation between lower grades and shorter sleep times in a survey of more than 3000 high school students. While they can’t sleep in during the school week, let them sleep in on weekends. Research shows teens really can catch up on sleep on weekends, helping them function better during the week.

Now, the only thing left is to figure out the bus schedule and pack a lunch. With a little sleepy-time encouragement, your child will have an easy start at school this year.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig – improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.

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