A new school year kicks off Monday morning and that means your child's lazy, relaxed days of summer are about to be replaced with packed schedules full of class time, homework, and after school activities. More than likely your children have been staying up late and sleeping in through much of their summer-break, and getting them back into a healthy sleep routine may be challenging to say the least.
Here at The Alaska Sleep Clinic, we understand the difficulties parents face in getting their children back into regular sleep routines. Studies have shown that a lack of quality sleep in children can increase the likelihood of anxiety, depression, poor grades and school performance, and even physical pain. Research has proven that kids need a lot of sleep in order to function adequately during the day, and sleep deprived children often overcompensate for lack of sleep by becoming fidgety or even disruptive in school.
How much sleep does your child need every night?
Children ages 5-8 need the most sleep, requiring about 10-11 hours every night. Children ages 9-12 need between 9.5-10 hours nightly. And teenagers 13-18 need between 8.5-9.5.
Knowing how much sleep your child needs every night is key in establishing a proper bedtime. And it's important to remember that the above times aren't set in stone, but merely general approximations. Your child will have their own individual sleep needs, and you may need to fine-tune their bedtimes a little bit until you find your child less groggy and sleepy in the mornings, and more alert and aware.
Tips For Getting Your Children On a Regular Sleep Routine
Start the transition early. Around 2-3 weeks before the start of the school year, begin getting your children back into the routine of going to bed earlier. Start by moving their bedtime back about 15 minutes from their normal "summer schedule" and gradually move back until they are going to bed at the appropriate "school schedule" time. This way the first few weeks of school won't be such a shock as they won't have to play catch-up with their new, earlier rising times.
Keep a regular bedtime schedule. It's important to stay consistent with your children's sleep routine once you begin the transition, and this means on weekends too. Allowing them to sleep in, or stay up late, on weekends can damage the routine you're trying to establish.
Begin a relaxing bedtime routine. Whatever routine you choose, it's important that it's not overly stimulating, and that you stay consistent with it. Some common routines for children include:
- An hour or two of physical activity before dinnertime to help them wind down later.
- A relaxing bath after dinner.
- Reading a few chapters from a book with mom and dad.
- Doing nightly prayers or singing a lullaby.
- Having mom or dad turn off the lights and saying goodnight.
Turn off electronics. At least an hour before bedtime all electronics should be shut off or taken away. This includes: TV, video games, cell phones, computers, etc. Not only is the content from these devices mentally stimulating, but the artificial light emitting from them tricks the brain into thinking it needs to stay awake as it associates light with daytime.
Create an ideal sleep environment. Your kids should associate their bed with sleep and not other types of activities. If they enjoy relaxing in their room during the daytime, get them a beanbag chair for them to sit in as they read or play video games. That way the bed is identified strictly with sleeping. Make sure their room is cool (68-72 degrees), quiet, dimly lit, and comfortable. Try using "white noise" from a fan or a sound machine. White noise creates a consistent, rhythmic sound that can be relaxing while drowning out all other disruptive or sudden noises.
Limit caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant and not very good for children anyway. However, if you don't want your kids up late at night, it's best to limit their caffeine intake after lunch, and none within three hours of bedtime.
Make sure they eat healthy and have regular exercise. It's important that your children get plenty of exercise during the day which will help them wind down quicker later at night. Healthy eating has been proven to promote quality sleep, and it's important to feed them foods that help them stay active and alert during the day, but allow them to wind down at night. Avoid feeding your children fatty foods and processed carbs as these foods will fill them up, but don't contain the vitamins and nutrients needed to produce energy. Foods rich in antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and protein boost their daily energy levels without being followed with a crash like sugary or caffeinated foods and beverages.
Communicate with your children. Kids will naturally push back, and getting them on a sleep schedule may be much more difficult than it sounds. It's important that you talk with your children about the reasons why they have a specified bedtime and explain how it's meant to help them feel good while they're at school. Also, make sure to establish clear rules. When going through their bedtime routine, set the limit for the number of stories you will read them, and what time lights out is.
Practice these tips yourself. These tips are not only beneficial to quality sleep in children, but in adults as well. Practicing these sleep habits yourself will increase your own energy during the daytime as well as set a positive example for your children. Let your kids know that the "back to school sleep program" is for everybody, and that the whole family participates in it.
If you have other questions regarding your children's sleep habits check out some more of our educational articles:
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