With the summer coming to an end, we begin to prepare our children for the start of a new school year. In general, we tend to focus our attention on new clothes, shoes and getting required supplies. However, we should also take a closer look at how well our child sleeps at night.
Many studies demonstrate a link between poor sleep quality and quantity and decreased academic performance. Depending on the age of your child, most school age children will need anywhere from 9-13 hours of sleep. With the lax schedule that summer may bring, many children have been going to bed late and waking up during the late morning hours…or even early afternoons! By the end of August it can be hard for many children to start waking early for school. Therefore, it is recommended that a consistent sleep schedule is maintained as much as possible throughout the year, including summertime.
But what can you do now if your child has been sleeping all sorts of odd hours this summer and you are thinking, “How am I going to wake up little Johnny when school starts?” Here are some tips that can help you with getting your child ready for school.
1. About one month prior to the start of school, start to change your child’s sleep schedule. A gradual change of the sleep schedule is most effective. For example, if your child has been going to sleep at midnight, it would be hard for him/her to suddenly get to sleep at 10 PM the night before the first day of school. Therefore, in this particular case, one month before the start of school, have your child start going to bed at 11:30PM and wake the same time every morning (usually the time he/she would need to get up for school). During the day, your child should not nap. Continue this schedule for about 3 days and then set the bedtime another ½ hour earlier (e.g., 11PM). Keep wake times the same and avoid naps during this whole process. Eventually, your child will start to sleep earlier and wake up refreshed.
2. Shut off all electronic devices 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to the desired bedtime. This includes TV, loud/fast music, computers, iPADs, phones, video games, etc. Do not expose your child to bright light or loud noises during this time as it inhibits the brain to naturally allow sleep.
Note: Occasionally, your child may not easily fall asleep despite the above measures. He or she may need a sleep aid temporarily to help him/her get to sleep earlier. Discuss this with your pediatrician or a board certified sleep professional.
3. Observe your child while he/she is sleeping. Parental observation is crucial. Does he/she snore? Is he/she restless? Is he/she still sleepy despite what you think is an adequate amount of sleep? If you answer yes to any of these questions, then your child may have an underlying sleep disorder and it is recommended to bring these concerns to your pediatrician or a board certified sleep professional. It has been reported that children who snore or who have restless legs syndrome are more likely to have the characteristics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Therefore, improving a child’s sleep may improve many problems that he/she may face during the regular school day. Also, it is unusual for a child above age 5 to nap. This may signify the quantity and/or quality of sleep is poor and should be assessed.
4. Avoid heavy meals and exercise after 8 PM.
5. Sleep in a cool, dark and quiet room.
6. During the school year, keep a consistent sleep schedule. There should not be more than 1.5 hours difference between the weekday and weekend bedtimes and wake times.
Some tips to achieve this are:
1. Eat a balanced diet. Meals should contain a healthy serving of vegetables, grains, protein, fruit and dairy. The amount of each food group varies depending on the person’s activity level and medical conditions. Guidelines on your child’s diet can be discussed with his/her pediatrician or a licensed dietitian.
2. Keep healthy foods and snacks at home. Your child cannot snack on a bag of potato chips if you do not buy them. Our children learn from the way we eat, so if we stock healthy foods at home and serve them, then they too may learn to make better choices in their food selections when they become more independent.
3. Limit fast food meals. These meals are generally high in salt and calories. If time is limited in the evenings to cook at home, consider preparing meals either partially or completely in advance. For example, you can cut vegetables the night before and come home and make a quick stir fry, or consider cooking on the weekends and freezing meals to use for the next week.
4. Eat slowly. Eating too fast may result in overeating. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to register that food has entered the stomach and a feeling of satiety emerges. Eating too fast will cause you to eat more before your brain signals that you are full. Therefore, chew your food well and eat slowly.
5. Get active! Make sure your child gets good daily physical exercise.
6. Abstain or limit caffeine and juice consumption. Make sure your child drinks an adequate amount of water daily.