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TMH Living Well: Sleep for school success

The Memorial Hospital

If you could make one change that would improve your child’s success at school, you’d do it in a heartbeat. Improving school performance could literally be a good night’s sleep away. Research shows again and again how getting adequate sleep each night helps us perform well the next day.

“As adults we know we don’t function at our best when we are tired. We make easy mistakes. It’s the same with kids. When kids are tired they are more apt to put down any answer rather than figure out the right answer. Their attention spans are shorter, and their ability to listen is impaired,” said Dr. Kristie Yarmer, pediatrician with The Memorial HospitalThe Memorial Hospital..

The Memorial Hospital.

Beyond learning, she has seen kids with disruptive behaviors find relief simply by getting their sleep habits on track. If you think your child might have a learning disability, like attention deficit disorder (ADD), try establishing a good sleep routine first, making sure your child gets the recommended sleep for their age.

“I’ve seen several examples where kids are acting angry and defiant or hyperactive at school. They may have a behavioral diagnosis, but sometimes I find it is simply lack of sleep. Even if they do struggle with depression, anxiety or ADD, all of these diagnoses are exacerbated by lack of sleep,” she added.

How much sleep is enough?

How much sleep does your child need? It varies by age, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours, kids in elementary need 9 to 12 hours, and teenagers need 9.25 hours a night, when most get on average about seven.

Adjusting bedtimes for back to school

If you are reading this article, now is the perfect time to start adjusting your child’s bedtime for a successful first day of school. School starts Aug. 29 in Moffat County. Yarmer recommends incremental adjustments of 15 minutes for two weeks before school starts.

“During summer, kids sleep in. If your child has been getting to bed at 10 p.m., try putting him to bed 15 minutes early at 9:45 p.m. for two nights, then 9:30 p.m., and so on, to work back to an 8 p.m. bedtime,” she said.

If your child needs to get up at 6:30 a.m. to make the first bell, getting to bed no later than 8:30 p.m. means they will get the needed minimum 10 hours of sleep. Make 8:30 p.m. or earlier your goal for bedtime.

The importance of a bedtime routine

What’s your bedtime routine? Maybe you help your kids take baths, get on pajamas, brush teeth, read a book, then it’s lights out. Did you know going through this routine each evening triggers your kids’ brains to get sleepy?

“We call it sleep hygiene, and it’s really important because your body recognizes the pattern and your brain sees it as the time for sleep,” Yarmer said.

Good sleep hygiene calls for making the bedroom a place for sleep. Ideally, that includes keeping all screens out of the bedroom — televisions, computers, tablets and phones. The AAP recommends limiting screen time to two hours a day, and stopping screen time a half hour before bed. Consider making screens off limits in bedrooms. Keeping them out in a public area has the added bonus of letting you track your kids’ use of electronics.

Nap, yes or no?

Naps can be tricky when school starts, because kids start transitioning out of naps around age 5, in general. If you are sending your child off to kindergarten, consider that they might still need that nap — now more than ever.

“When kids start school their brains are working so hard that sometimes they need a nap, even when they didn’t before,” Yarmer said.

She suggests reading your child’s cues when it comes to sleep — do they seem more grumpy, frustrated or overwhelmed? If so, check their sleep habits.

Dr. Yarmer is now accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment, call 970-826-2480.


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