Snooze, Don't Lose
On summer nights, kids typically stay up late, enjoying extra family time, playing outdoor games and going to the neighborhood park.
But all that changes with the start of school.
“It’s time for bed” is one of the most important phrases you can say to help your child be more successful in the upcoming school year, says Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Sleepless in America (2006, HarperCollins). “Sound sleep is associated with top performance, sound reasoning, impulse control and more.”
Here are some steps to instill a good sleep schedule for your school-age children.
Know Your Child’s Sleep Needs
The average school-age child requires approximately 10 hours a night, but kindergarteners and first graders may need 11 to 12 hours.
Make sleep a top priority for your entire family – your children, you and your spouse, too. “If we protect our own sleep as well as our children’s, we will be better parents,” Kurcinka says.
Take a Reality Check
Ten hours a night may be optimum, but it’s not necessarily a reality for busy children.
“We’re a culture that doesn’t value sleep,” says Kurcinka. “We face pressures for our children that they need to compete, so we enroll them in many activities to prepare them for adulthood.”
Change the Timing
Many parents juggle school-related activities that often occur in the evening, when a child needs to be winding down for sleeping. Yet, as a parent, you can alter your decisions about participating in activities and running errands to give sleep more priority in your household.
For example, rather than enrolling your child in swimming lessons after dinner, consider Saturday morning or afterschool lessons instead. Run errands during the day, whenever possible.
Parents may find they cannot honor their children’s need for sleep without some support from other families. Why does basketball practice need to begin at 8 p.m.? As a parent, you can let others know that you want your 9-year-old to play on the team – just not at that hour.
Know Health Implications
Though scientists are still learning about the consequences of poor sleeping habits, research has clearly shown that too little sleep inhibits productivity and the ability to remember and consolidate information.
Short sleep duration is linked with an increased risk for motor vehicle accidents, obesity, diabetes, heart problems, depression and substance abuse, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Understand Sleep Deficit
School-age children on little sleep can suffer from mood swings and behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity and cognitive difficulties that impact their ability to learn in school.
Various studies have pointed to chronically sleep-deprived children performing two grade levels below their peers on standardized tests.
Start to Shift Bedtimes
For many families, the summer schedule – going to bed later and sleeping in longer – has disrupted sleep patterns for everyone. Ideally, families should try to stick to the same bedtime year-round, including weekends.
As fall approaches, try shifting your children’s bed and wake times in accordance with their school schedules. Start to move the schedule in 15-minute increments.
Kim Seidel is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, health and family topics.
Tips for Healthy Sleep Habits
To promote good sleep habits, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, the author of Sleepless in America, recommends these tips:
- Recognize that a good night’s sleep begins in the morning. This means establishing a regular wake-up time and sticking to it.
- Turn off the television and computer in the morning. Pull open the shades to allow in natural light to wake up your children. If possible, have your children go outside for a few minutes to stimulate the body.
- Eat small meals and snacks that contain protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and a little fat six times a day. (Think crackers, yogurt and fruit.)
- Encourage naps and quiet time during the day for children, ideally after lunch for 45 minutes.
- Serve dinner as early as possible. If a parent isn’t home from work, feed the children early and then offer them a bedtime snack.
- Ban video, television and rough play after dinner. Start slowing the routine after the meal.
- If a child has trouble falling asleep, move their bath or shower away from the bedtime routine, because the body temperature needs to drop again before sleeping.
- Sleepless in America: parentchildhelp.com
- National Sleep Foundation: sleepfoundation.org
- Newborns: 10½ to 18 hours (including naps)
- Infants, 3 to 11 months: 9 to 12 hours, plus 30-minute to two-hour naps, one to four times a day
- Toddlers: 12 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers: 11 to 13 hours
- Kindergarten and first graders: 11 to 12 hours
- School-age: 10 to 11 hours
- Teens: 8½ to 9¼
- Adults: 8¼