Six sleep suggestions for a solid back-to-school transition
Well, parents. The time has finally come. Whether you’re secretly (or not so secretly) celebrating, or shedding a few tears, school is back in session for many Iowa families this month.
Pediatrician Andrea White, MD, UnityPoint Health, has some recommendations for how to handle the transition to earlier bed times and wake-up calls:
Start the back to school sleep transition two weeks before school begins.
“It’s best to allow time for a gradual transition to the new sleep routine,” says Dr. White. “If vacations or other schedule limitations do not allow for this, focus on adjusting the wake up time first. This way, kids will be more tired at the end of the day, and more likely to go to bed earlier.”
It usually takes one to two weeks for a child’s biological clock to adjust to a new sleep pattern. To determine the best bed time for your child, figure out when your child needs to wake up in the morning. Then, subtract the number of recommended sleep hours for your child’s age, or the number of hours your own child needs to feel refreshed and rested. Then, you’ll have an ideal bedtime.
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Dr. White suggests that elementary age kids typically need nine to 11 hours of sleep and teenagers need eight to ten.
“Sleep is a very important time for restoration of the body and mind. More and more research is illuminating the importance of good quality sleep to our health. For kids, good sleep can get them energized for the day, along with improving learning and concentration. Chronic sleep deprivation can actually mimic symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),” Dr. White says.
Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekend.
While this is a good suggestion, let’s be honest, it can be hard to do!
“It’s unrealistic to think that families will never stray from the usual schedule. If you have a late night, try to wake kids up within one to two hours after their normal wake up time. Even two to three hours of a shifted sleep schedule can lead to the equivalent of ‘jet lag’ at the beginning of the school week, which will lead to kids having a hard time falling asleep and getting up,” Dr. White says.
Avoid light-emitting activities before bed.
Dr. White says television, computers, tablets and phones can interfere with natural melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles.
“Not only can electronics interfere with melatonin production, kids may also stay up later than they should because they are ‘hooked’ into a game or social media. It’s a good idea to avoid TVs in the bedroom and have kids charge electronics in the kitchen or a parent’s bedroom,” Dr. White says.
5-2-1-0: Limit recreational screen time to two hours or less
Don’t make it a habit to have your child join you in bed.
Having a late night visitor is part of parenthood. If a child needs reassurance during the night due to a nightmare or thunderstorm, it’s OK to let them crawl in. However, Dr. White says not to make it a chronic habit, or it can interfere with everyone’s sleep quality.
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine for children to help them wind down.
Adding bedtime music for kids, reading books or having a few minutes of calm snuggle time are a just a few suggestions you could try.
RELATED: How to promote healthy screen-time habits
Limit caffeine and add exercise.
It’s a good idea to keep caffeine to a minimum, especially after lunch to avoid interference with your kid’s bedtime. Everyone, not just children, sleeps better after adding exercise to their day. The summers are a great time to encourage your children to get outside to burn off some energy with exercise and fun.
If you have questions about the amount of sleep that’s right for your child, or sleeping difficulties your child experiences, contact your UnityPoint Health pediatrician or primary care provider.
Kevin Vermeer assumed the role President and CEO of UnityPoint Health (formerly Iowa Health System) in January 2016. He's served the organization in a variety of leadership roles since 2000. Vermeer has over two decades of experience managing financial operations for leading health care organizations. Vermeer participates in community organizations, such as the Iowa Business Council and Greater Des Moines Committee. Vermeer also serves on the Healthiest State Initiative Board.