A sleep schedule?
If that last item is missing from your child’s back-to-school list, then it’s time to write it in, some experts say.
Children — and teens — not only need plenty of sleep, but a consistent sleep schedule that includes a regular bedtime, says Sarah Honaker of the University of Louisville’s Pediatric Sleep Medicine Center.
“I think it really improves the quality of life for the child and (may improve) the child’s mood ... and certainly that has important implications for ... the well-being of the family in general,” says Honaker, a psychologist.
Past surveys by the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit organization that educates the public on sleep and sleep disorders, have found that children often don’t get enough sleep.
Parents should be concerned about that because if children are sleep-deprived, “they’re not going to give their best effort,” says Ron Kron, clinical manager of the Sleep Disorders Center at Floyd Memorial Hospital in New Albany, Ind.
Sleep “allows the body to restore and refresh itself,” says Kron, a registered respiratory therapist.
“If you don’t get enough sleep ... you’re going to be tired and drowsy through the day.”
Also, Honaker notes, “We know that sleep deprivation can impair learning. It impairs mood, physical health.”
The National Sleep Foundation recommends nine to 11 hours of sleep a night for children 5 through 12 who attend school, and 8.5 to 9.5 hours a night for adolescents.
Estimates among experts vary. “Elementary-age children and young intermediate-age children probably need 10 hours of (nightly) sleep, and then the adolescents need at least nine, but that’s sort of a beginning point,” says Dr. Vincent McCarthy, a physician and associate professor with the University of Louisville’s sleep center.
Ease back into schedule
To ensure that youths get enough sleep, parents shouldn’t wait until the last minute to get them back on a school-year sleep schedule, Honaker says.
“It’s important to return to the schedule gradually because if you ask a child who’s been going to sleep at 10 or 11 all summer all of a sudden to fall asleep at 8, then chances are they’re not going to be able to fall asleep at that earlier time,” Honaker says.
She suggests having the children go to bed earlier and earlier each night until they reach the target bedtime that you want them to stick with during the school year.
Having a regular bedtime is important, even for teens, who have unique challenges, she says.
Teenagers tend to “feel tired later and want to sleep later, and that’s a biological tendency.”
However, because of typical school times, “they have to wake up early, they get sleep-deprived during the week and then they do sort-of catch-up sleep on the weekends or (take) after-school naps,” she says.
Honaker prefers that children not be allowed to sleep-in more than 30 to 60 minutes on weekends.
“Sleeping in longer than an hour can really cause problems with their sleep schedule,” keeping them from being sleepy at bedtime, Honaker says.
The same goes for naps, which Honaker discourages except under special circumstances, such as sickness.
Kron doesn’t oppose naps as long as they don’t keep the child from sticking to his or her bedtime.
To help kids sleep, encourage them to relax before bed and to minimize light, even the glow from electronics. Such light “can be pretty powerful, and it sends a cue to the system that it’s time to be awake,” Honaker says.
In fact, the bedroom should be electronics-free, if possible, she says. This will help remove the temptation to use them close to bedtime, allow parents to monitor use more closely and create an association between the bedroom and sleep.
“The bedroom should be used basically to sleep,” Kron agrees. “No television, no computers, no games. When it’s time to go to bed, it’s time to go to bed.”
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