Get Your Kids on a School-Ready Sleep Schedule
After a year of learning online in their pajamas at home, many kids may struggle to wake up early for class as schools reopen this fall, an expert says.
"I think the biggest concern is that the virtual environment of last year led to some unstructured schedules since it did not need a full morning routine that requires waking up early, getting dressed, preparing lunches and transport to schools," said Dr. Philip Alapat, an assistant professor of sleep medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
He offers some advice on how to help students make the transition this school year.
First, it's important to know the recommended hours of sleep kids and teenagers need per age group: ages 3-5, 10-13 hours; ages 6-13, 9-11 hours; ages 14-17, 8-10 hours.
Too little sleep has been linked to poor academic performance, mood changes and car accidents among students who drive.
Try to set new sleep habits before the start of the school year, Alapat suggested. Establish new bedtime and wake-up times at least a week before classes begin to help students adjust to the first few days of school when they need to rise earlier.
It can be challenging to create a new sleep schedule after the summer break, so setting the alarm and slowly moving the wake-up time earlier by 15 minutes each day can help.
"When you move the wake-up time earlier by 15 minutes each day, you allow your body to adjust more comfortably," Alapat said in a Baylor news release.
"You still want to ensure the adequate amount of sleep is reached, so if a child needs nine hours of sleep, then you need to count back nine hours so that the bedtime is at the appropriate time to allow for the proper amount of sleep," he said.
Once a sleep schedule has been set, it's important to maintain it.
Discourage late-afternoon naps and drinking caffeinated beverages like soda and energy drinks in the evening because they can impair sleep quality.
"Avoiding unintended daytime sleep and late afternoon naps will also help facilitate your body being able to fall asleep at night," Alapat said.
It's also a good idea to limit screen time (TV, computers, mobile devices) in the evening. Try to have children wind down without screen time for at least 30 minutes before bedtime in a cool, dark and quiet environment.
Parents also need to set an example by keeping a regular sleep schedule.
"Perhaps working together as a family will help the set an example for kids and make the transition a little easier," Alapat said.
The Sleep Foundation has more on children and sleep.
SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, Aug. 12, 2021