With the new school year starting, sleep may quickly become the first casualty of a busy, demanding schedule. After a summer of relaxed bedtimes and sleeping in, it can be a tough adjustment to suddenly go to bed and wake up as much as three hours earlier. It’s equally tough on the parent who must get everyone out the door in the morning.
A truly restful, battery-charging slumber requires eight to nine hours of sleep; however, the average youth gets just under seven hours per night during the school year.
For parents, ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to increased anxiety, high blood pressure, obesity, depression, mental impairment, stroke and other health problems.
Poor or inadequate sleep hinders ability to focus, cognitive brain function and memory, and negatively affects mood and behavior. For older students, a lack of sleep increases the likelihood of having a car accident and resorting to overuse of stimulant energy drinks or even substance abuse.
Here is a practical checklist of 10 things families can do to ensure a smooth adjustment to school schedules:
- Limit naps. Short naps of 20 to 30 minutes are the best way to improve alertness. Long naps can result in grogginess and interfere with nighttime sleep.
- Cut off caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant. Avoid caffeinated beverages or chocolate four to six hours before bedtime to help you fall asleep more easily.
- Set a bedtime. Slowly shift bedtime 15 minutes at a time until the desired bedtime is achieved. Likewise, begin having child wake 15 minutes earlier each day. Try to keep bedtime and wake-time schedules constant on both weekdays and weekends.
- Wind down for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This is an appropriate time for baths and brushing teeth.
- Turn off electronics. Shut off all electronics – TV, video games, computers, and cellphones – one hour before bedtime. Remove these items from your child’s room to ensure they don’t sneak usage after they are thought to be asleep.
- Create an environment suitable for sleeping. Nightlights are okay but keep other sources of light and sound to a minimum.
- Reserve the bed for sleeping. While reading is great, ideally it should be done in a chair or other space so that the bed is used only for sleeping.
- Don’t go to bed hungry but avoid overeating. An overly full belly can keep you up. If your child feels hungry, encourage a glass of milk.
- Set the rules. Kids often will try to push the envelope and bend the rules. So, when you determine a routine, make the rules clear and stick to them.
- Practice what you preach. Of course, one of the best ways to get your kids to adopt good sleep habits is to model them yourself. Let everyone participate in the back-to-school sleep plan.
In some cases, sleep deprivation is a symptom of a sleep disorder or other health concern. If you or your child is experiencing chronic sleep deprivation, it’s time to consult a physician.
Dr. Lynnette Valentijn is a pediatrician with Ascension Medical Group at Weston.