Summer Safety

Back to School, Back to Sleep

Danna Tauber, M.D. Danna Tauber, M.D.

Ways to Get Your Child Back Into a Sleep Schedule BEFORE School Starts

Summer gives kids a break from their school year routine, which often means staying up and sleeping in later than usual. But if your kids were to start school while still on that schedule, they'd probably have trouble going to sleep, waking up on time and making it through the day.

Children with chronic sleep deprivation are more likely to have learning difficulties, attention problems, be overweight, or exhibit symptoms of attention deficit disorder. The National Sleep Foundation found that 60 percent of kids under age 18 complained of being tired during the day, according to their parents, and 15 percent said they had fallen asleep at school.

So how much sleep do kids need? Newborn babies get about 16 to 20 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Toddlers need 12 to 14 hours, which should include a daytime nap. School-age kids between ages 5 to 12 require 10 to 11 hours, and teenagers need just over nine.

"A solid sleep routine begins with keeping a peaceful bedroom environment," says Danna Tauber, M.D., Director of the Sleep Center at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children. "A child's room should not include TVs, computers or video game consoles. Set them up in another part of the house. The room should be dark, have a comfortable bed, and be at a temperature that's not too hot or cold. Additionally, you can set a good example for your child by establishing your own consistent sleep routine."

Given the amount of sleep kids need, it is important to help them get back on a regular sleep schedule before school starts. Remember that falling asleep is more of a sequence of events than an instant command. Lights can be turned off with just the flip of a switch, but it's harder for a body and mind to "turn off" at night. A body transitioning from daytime activity to sleep takes time. It's best to set aside at least 20 to 30 minutes for this transition prior to bedtime. Consistent routines provide the body with signals that it is time to prepare for sleep.

So how can you help your child return to a routine? A sleep schedule that begins about two weeks before school begins is a good place to start.

  • Gradually set earlier bedtimes every night and earlier wake-up times every morning
  • Stick with the schedule
    • Weekends shouldn't be used to "catch up on sleep"
    • Kids should go to bed at or near the same time every night, even on weekends
  • Start "quiet time" before bedtime so kids can unwind
    • Shut off TVs, video games, computers, cell phones, music devices, and any electronic distractions for at least 30 minutes before bedtime
    • Emphasize relaxing activities, such as a baths, bedtime stories, or reading time
  • Avoid big meals close to bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine; it can disrupt sleep patterns and make it hard to fall asleep
    • Sodas and other caffeinated drinks should be avoided for six hours before bedtime

The sooner kids readjust to school-time sleep schedules, the better they will feel during the school day. If your child continues to have trouble adjusting, or exhibits signs of other sleep issues, consult your child's pediatrician.

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