For many families, summer brings more flexible schedules that are often
woven around picnics, ball games, vacations, and other fun activities.
Traveling, staying up late, and getting out of the “school routine”
means bedtimes and wake-up times are much different in the summertime
compared to those during the school year. With the first day of school
fast approaching, what can families do to get back into healthy bedtime
and wake-up routines?
We have compiled five tips, along with the latest findings on the importance
of sleep, to help families kick off the new school year with success!
The Significance of Sleep
Whether your child is a pint-sized preschooler, a beginning kindergartener,
a growing tween, or a teenage middle or high schooler, let’s talk about
the reasons sleep is vital to children of all ages. It is a critical component of a healthy routine: Restful sleep, along
with nutrition and physical activity, determines our overall health and
well-being. In children, the right amount of sleep directly influences
adolescent health and development.
During sleep, even though our bodies appear to be at rest, they are actually
working hard! Sleep allows our bodies to fight off infections, and helps
our bodies metabolize sugar to prevent diabetes. Deep sleep triggers the
release of a hormone that stimulates growth in children and teens. This
hormone also boosts muscle mass, and it helps repair cells and tissues—not
only in children, but in adults too. In a way, you can think of sleep
as the time when our bodies “recharge and repair.”
Instilling healthy sleep habits is
vital to a child’s success in school. When children don’t get enough sleep—even just 25 minutes
less per night—it can lead to lower grades, fatigue, and trouble
concentrating during school. But the most obvious symptom of a poor night’s
sleep in children is displayed in their behavior, as most parents can
attest. The symptoms of ADHD actually mirror the symptoms displayed by
kids who are tired. Acting impulsive and distracted are two of the classic
ADHD symptoms that can be displayed by kids who are simply tired.
The fresh start of a new school year is also a great time for parents to
evaluate and model good sleep habits.
Studies show 25% of American adults don’t get enough sleep at least 15 days out
of every 30 days. Here are five tips to help families establish healthy
nighttime routines, which in turn, lay the groundwork for good mornings.
1. Gear up for school: Gradually adjust bedtime and then stick to it.
A week or two before school starts, gradually adjust your child’s
bedtime, moving it five to 15 minutes earlier every night, until you’ve
reached the ideal bedtime. This allows everyone in the household to adjust
gradually, allowing your child’s circadian rhythms to reset, rather
than making a sudden and shocking change right before school starts. If
you work into the new school routine gently, it will feel natural by the
time the first day of school rolls around. Hopefully this will bring smiles
for those first-day-of-school pictures!
While we’re talking about bedtimes, it would be helpful to know how
many hours of sleep your child needs. What is the ideal amount of sleep?
According to the National Sleep Foundation:
- Preschoolers (ages 3-5) need 10-13 hours
- School-aged children (ages 6-13) need 9-11 hours
- Teens (ages 14-17) need 8-10 hours
- Young adults (ages 18-25) need 7-9 hours
As parents, one of the most challenging tasks is sticking to a consistent
bedtime, but experts say it’s one of the most important pieces of
advice they can give. Maintaining a consistent bedtime—even on weekends—allows
your child’s natural circadian rhythms to follow an uninterrupted
pattern. This brings healthier physical and mental functioning, as well
as better behavior.
2. Set the stage: Create relaxing bedtime rituals and routines to “wind
The process of preparing for bedtime can become one of your family’s
favorite, cherished times together. Your family may need to plan on 30
minutes or an hour’s worth of time for your child’s routine,
which can include taking a bath, drinking a glass of warm milk, simple
stretching, reading books, or listening to soothing music.
The younger your child is, the more likely you need to cycle through all
or most of these rituals. You can think of this time as a relaxing time
to unwind, both mentally and physically. And if you repeat the same routine
every night, it will cue your child’s brain and body that it’s
time to sleep, establishing healthy habits. Of course, some of the best
ways to end the bedtime routine is with a hug, kiss, or snuggle.
3. Turn off technology: Set a “screen bedtime,” one hour before
your child’s bedtime.
Research regarding the light generated by electronic devices shows that
it stimulates us, promoting wakefulness. Case in point: If your child
logs two hours of screen time right before bed, it will lower their levels
of melatonin, a chemical that signals their body it’s time to sleep, by 22%.
According to another study, children who use computers, tablets, or phones as sleep aids have later
weekday bedtimes, log fewer hours of sleep per week, and are often sleepy
during the daytime.
So, the best advice for parents is to set a “screen bedtime”—a
time about an hour before your child’s true bedtime, when all technology
must be turned off. Bonus tip: Set recharging stations in a living room,
kitchen, or common area of the house away from bedrooms, for the night.
This allows devices to recharge without tempting children to check them
during the night. If devices are placed in a bedroom, you or your child
may wake up from the “dings” of messages and/or want to check
them. This certainly doesn’t allow for restful sleep!
4. Get organized: Prepare school outfits, lunches, etc. the night before.
You may want to begin your child’s bedtime ritual with a few tasks
that lay the groundwork for “smooth sailing” the next morning.
These tasks might include checking homework, packing their backpack, choosing
and laying out your child’s clothes and shoes together, and prepping
a PB&J or other lunch items. Mornings can be hectic, especially if
you have more than one child, plus a spouse preparing for work, and especially
if household bathrooms are shared. But preparing for a successful start
to the day, the night before, removes stress to help you avoid morning
5. Play hard: The more active your child is, the greater chance sleep will
Encourage your child to play outside, not only during recess time, but
also in the backyard, at the local park, or simply by walking or biking
together in your neighborhood. The more active they are during the day,
the faster they’re likely to fall asleep at bedtime. Research shows
that when kids don’t receive enough sleep and are tired, they are
more likely to be sedentary, and they burn fewer calories: This is a chain
reaction of unhealthy habits.
Additionally, for every hour children are engaged in sedentary activities
such as watching television, it takes them
an extra three minutes to fall asleep at night. These studies are all proof that physical activity is vital to children’s
healthy sleep habits and overall health.
Beyond Sleep Habits: The Educational Effects
Following the five steps above will help your child and family develop
good sleep habits, contributing to overall health. But is there any research
that actually links sleep with learning?
Yes, there are complex relationships between sleep, learning, and memory.
While research is ongoing, it shows fascinating links between sleep and
memory function. Additionally, sleeping through the night presents the
best opportunity for learning and memory.
There are three basic functions within our brain that are related to learning
and memory: acquisition, consolidation, and recall. While acquisition
and recall happen while we’re awake, research suggests that memory
consolidation—the process by which memories become stable—takes
place while we’re sleeping. The studies are fascinating—showing
that neural connections are strengthened during sleep in order to form
our memories. And brainwaves during different stages of sleep are believed
to form specific types of memories.
So, the next time you tuck your child into bed, you can rest assured you
are providing your child with many healthy reasons—possibly more
than you know—to succeed in this school year and beyond.