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With the start of the school year right around the corner, it’s an ideal time to make changes in your household so the adjustment won’t be so hard once classes are in session. Taking a few minor steps can support your children’s health (and your sanity!). Here are some helpful tips that we recommend:
Children 3 to 6 years old require more sleep than older children. They should get 10-11 hours of sleep daily. Younger children within this age group may still require a short nap during the day, which many get at daycare or Pre-K, but the need to nap usually stops around the time they enter the first grade.
Kids ages 7-12 years old need 10-12 hours of sleep, but often only get 9-10 hours.
As your kids age, particularly those who are 13 to 18 years old, aka “teens,” only require 8-9 hours of sleep, but rarely get the full amount they need due to activities and a blooming social life. Schoolwork, after-school programs, and sports often disrupt their sleep.
Want to learn more? Read “How Much Sleep is Really Enough for You.”
Have your children go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Aim to have their wake-up times on school days and on weekends be within two hours of each other. This will help your child’s body clock find its standard rhythm. When they awake, they should get out of bed upon waking up instead of going back to sleep.
Does it pay to be a “regular sleeper”? Yes! Read “Why it Pays to be a ‘Regular Sleeper.’”
As children age, problems may arise due to the stress of school, friendships, and puppy love. These stressors often interfere with sleep. Take time to talk about problems and reassure your child or children that you are there to support them. If they are younger, consider getting them a stuffed toy to comfort them while they fall asleep. Reducing their fears is critical because higher cortisol caused by stress may disrupt their sleep.
Need to talk to your partner about snoring? Read “5 Tips for Talking to a Loved One About Their Snoring.”
About two weeks prior to the start of the school year, begin to adjust your child or children’s bedtime, moving it forward five to 15 minutes each day. This will help their circadian rhythms adjust to their new schedule. Don’t wait until the night before school starts! The sudden change could make it difficult for them to fall and stay asleep.
Begin to limit caffeine intake a week before school starts. Caffeine is a stimulant and not healthy for children on a frequent basis. It can make it tough for them to achieve quality sleep. Another diet fix: Skip ice cream and cool summer treats and opt for fruit instead. Low-fiber, high-fat, and high-sugar diets were found to be associated with sleep arousal.
It’s important that your child or children associate their bed with sleep and not other types of activities. If they often play in their room during the day, get them a beanbag or desk to sit in as they read or play video games. This will ensure that their bed is identified strictly as for sleeping.
If your children don’t already have a set bedtime routine (or didn’t have one this summer), now is the time to set one, especially if they are younger. Focus on calming activities like reading their favorite book or taking a relaxing bubble bath to help them to wind down for bedtime. Repeating the same process every night will eventually begin to signal to their brain and body that it’s time to sleep, helping them to fall asleep on time.
A child’s sleep cycle is sensitive to temperature. Ensure their bedroom is not too warm or that they are not covered with heavy clothing and blankets. A cool environment is best for promoting sleep. If you’d like to save on your electric bill, consider an energy-efficient fan instead of lowering the thermostat too low.
In order to get back on a regular sleep schedule, it’s important to remove electronics from the bedroom as they can lead to a poor night’s rest. Laptops, tablets, gaming systems, and televisions are notorious sleep interruptions. As most children now have mobile phones, the noise of text message alerts and the feel of vibrations can awaken anyone, but the blue light that many devices emit promotes wakefulness. Make it a rule that all devices need to be turned off one hour before bedtime.
If you follow all the above tips, and your children are still not sleeping well (that is, they experience trouble falling or staying asleep, are chronically tired during the day, have trouble concentrating on schoolwork, or show behavioral problems at home or at school), observe and journal their sleeping patterns and look to seek counsel from their pediatrician or a sleep specialist.