For kids, the long summer of sleeping in, staying up late, and enjoying leisurely mornings is coming to a rapid close. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) offers tips to help parents adjust their children’s sleep schedules for both success in school and to promote a healthy lifestyle.
“Ensuring that children get the healthy sleep they need to learn, function, and grow is crucial,” says Dr Timothy Morgenthaler, AASM president, in a release. “The end of the summer is an important time to get your kids back on track.”
Adjust for Earlier Wake Times
Many school days start early in the morning, and that makes healthy sleep for children a challenge. How can parents make sure that children are ready for a more stringent sleep schedule that comes with the start of school? Don’t wait until school starts—the AASM recommends a gradual transition in the upcoming weeks.
“Parents should start now, by easing bedtime back at least 15 minutes earlier each night, and then waking the kids up 15 minutes earlier in the morning,” Morgenthaler says. “Do this—even on the weekends—until the child’s schedule is aligned with how early they will need to wake up for the start of a school day.”
Get the Right Amount of Sleep
The AASM recommends that school-aged children and pre-teens get about 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night for optimal health, daytime alertness, and school performance. Adolescents, on the other hand, need to get a little more than 9 hours of nightly sleep during the critical transition from childhood to adulthood.
“Getting the proper amount of sleep is key for many facets of a child’s development. Things that are learned during the school day are absorbed and retained more efficiently when the recommended hours of sleep are achieved,” says Morgenthaler. “A well-rested child also is more likely to be healthy and energetic. He or she is more likely to get better grades in school and have a positive attitude toward life. A tired child may be more prone to emotional or behavioral problems.”
Improve Bedtime Practices
To help children fall and stay asleep during this adjustment period, the AASM recommends practicing healthy sleep habits. Avoid electronics before bedtime and especially while in bed—the bright light emitted by electronic devices can signal to the body that it should be awake and alert.
“In addition to removing nighttime technology from the bedroom, avoid foods and drinks with caffeine, follow a consistent bedtime routine, such as brushing teeth at the same time each night, and make the bedroom a dark, cool, and peaceful place,” says Morgenthaler.
Helping children understand that sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle is important for their future, as poor sleep can increase the risk of physical health problems throughout a child’s life. These include obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
If a consistent sleep schedule and good sleep hygiene do not appear to help a child achieve healthy sleep, the child may be suffering from a chronic sleep problem. Sleep medicine physicians who have the specialized training and expertise to diagnose and treat all forms of sleep illness can help. If your child has an ongoing sleep problem, seek out an AASM-accredited center near you by visiting www.sleepeducation.org.