It might be hard for most parents (and definitely kids) to believe, but the end of summer break is right around the corner.
In the midst of all of the back to school preparation, it’s important to remember that your children are about to experience a dramatic shift in schedules, which can potentially lead to sleep problems.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-age children need between nine and 11 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers need eight to 10 hours. However, most parents say their children don’t get enough, and a quarter indicated that their kids should be getting a full hour more per night to be at their best.
Lack of sleep can contribute to issues such as impaired performance in school and behavioral or emotional problems. It also can exacerbate health concerns such as obesity and ADHD, so it’s not something to be taken lightly.
Here are five tips to help ease your children into a new sleep pattern and make sure they don’t start the school year off on the wrong side of the bed.
1. Gradually re-establish school schedules: If your kids have gotten used to going to bed and waking up later, use the end of summer break to get into a school-day rhythm. Schedule some morning activities outside the house and start enforcing new bedtimes.
2. Develop a consistent bedtime routine: Maintain a regular bedtime and develop a routine of calming activities in the hours before bed. Taking baths, reading books and listening to music can help kids relax. Avoid TV, web surfing, video games, physical activities and sugary foods or drinks before bedtime. You might want to remove computer tablets from the bedroom.
3. Keep it quiet once they’re in bed: It can be tough for kids’ bodies to understand that it’s time to go to sleep if parents or older siblings are still being active or loud. They feel like they’re missing out on something.
Once your child is in bed, dim the lights in the house and stick to relaxing, quiet activities. Who knows, this could also help improve your sleep habits.
4. Maintain a balanced schedule: At the beginning of the school year, it’s exciting to see all the great activities and opportunities available to your children, but be careful not to overcommit. Evening activities and homework are commonly cited reasons for a lack of sleep, especially among teenagers.
5. Be on the lookout for medical conditions that interfere with sleep: There are a number of sleep disorders that can affect children. If children go to bed at a reasonable time but still show signs of sleep deprivation, they may have an issue affecting their sleep patterns.
Common signs of sleep deprivation include difficulty waking up in the morning, taking excessive naps, acting overly emotional, hyperactivity or having trouble with concentration.
Children who display these symptoms could have an issue such as sleep apnea, sleep anxiety, restless-leg syndrome, or allergies. Consult your doctor if you think your child has a problem.
Kishel is Senior Clinical Officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.