Make Back-to-School Better with A+ Sleep Habits
During July and August, it’s easy to let summer fun and late sunsets push your child’s bedtime. But with school back in session, sleep should be a bigger priority. Well-rested kids tend to do better at school. Their memories work better. They behave better. Their mental health is sounder. And their bodies are more prepared to fend off colds, flus and more.
Back to school is a great time to reboot sleep routines,” says Alyssa Goodwin, M.D., a pediatrician at the Martin’s Point Health Care Center in Brunswick at Baribeau Drive. “Kids and teens need a good night’s sleep to tackle their busy days. Plus, sleep is important for focus, behavior and school performance.”
How much sleep do kids need? Children in grade school – 6- to 12-year-olds – need 9 to 12 hours a night, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Teens too need a substantial amount of sleep – 8 to 10 hours through age 18.
For better sleep at any age
Whether your student is 6 or 16, getting enough sleep comes down to routine.
- Stick to the same bedtime and wake up time – every day.
- Establish pre-sleep rituals that prepare kids to go to bed and fall asleep.
- Manage the transition time. At least 60 minutes before bedtime, turn off and put away all electronic devices. Help younger children transition to quieter, less stimulating activities, like drawing, doing a puzzle, or yoga.
For grade school children
The bedtime routine. The routine you may have relied on for your toddler and preschooler is still your best friend, with a little tweaking. Start 15 to 30 minutes ahead of lights out. After teeth are brushed and the rest of the bathroom routine is done, read together, or snuggle up and listen to mellow music or an audiobook together. Then say goodnight and turn out the lights. Same thing, same order, every night.
A bedroom that says “sleep.” Close the shades. Keep lights dim, minimize noise and keep the temperature cool. Keep devices with screens – TVs, computers, tablets, gaming devices, phones, etc. – out. Put away toys that encourage activity or noise.
“The brain needs screen-free space to wind down and be ready for sleep,” explains Goodwin. “Consider using a quiet noisemaker or soft music and a gentle night light for kids who are afraid of the dark or have a hard time settling.”
Sleep is a particular challenge for teens. Their bodies work against them by moving the time they naturally feel sleepy about two hours later. On top of that, they’re busy. Homework, sports, play practice – they can all take away valuable sleep – and excess screen time only makes this worse.
Set the scene for success. Make the bedroom sleep-friendly. Save the bed for sleep – find another place to do homework. Keep the room cool, dark and quiet toward bedtime. Collect electronics 60 minutes before bedtime, and be consistent about removing them.
Make time for key conversations. Talk about consistent wake up/go to bed times and why they’re important. Help teens be smart about caffeine. Remind your child where it lurks – soda, coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and more – and suggest avoiding it after 3 p.m. Talk about waking up in the morning. Some teens may want you to make sure the alarm went off or open the shades in the morning to help nudge them into the day.
Compromise. If your teen resists a radical shift in bedtime, take it in steps. Over a week, try having your teen go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night, until you reach the ideal time. Give it another week, and talk about the effects he or she feels.
No matter what your child’s age, keep in mind that it takes several weeks to establish any new routine or habit. Be patient. Know that helping your child get even 15 to 20 minutes more sleep makes a difference. If you get stuck or have a question, reach out to your pediatrician. The Martin’s Point Health Care pediatric team is here to help – learn more at our website.