The new school year is well underway, but many of our children still have not adjusted to their regular sleep schedules. They enjoyed late bedtimes and getting up late in the mornings during the summer months, without giving much thought to preparing themselves for the upcoming school routine. However, sleep specialists encourage parents and kids to put healthy sleep on the list of back-to-school necessities — gradually adjusting to earlier sleep and wake times starting 10 days to two weeks before the first bell rings. Good sleep is very important to ensure that students will be alert and energized in the classroom.
All children — even adolescents — need more sleep than adults. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) 2004 and 2006 Sleep in America polls, which focused on children aged 0-10 and 11-17 respectively, most kids in the U.S. do not get the amount of sleep experts recommend. Optimal sleep is essential to children’s health, safety and academic performance, and kids who do not sleep well are more likely to have behavioral problems and face academic challenges.
Additionally, teens are at risk of “driving while drowsy.” Crashes attributed to inadequate sleep are particularly common among drivers aged 25 and younger.
Parents may also find that they, themselves, were unprepared for the sleep challenges that the new school year delivered. Many need to wake up earlier in order to pack lunches, drive their kids to school or help them get to the bus stop on time. Often it’s mothers, who are already sleep-deprived, who handle these tasks. The NSF’s 2007 Sleep in America poll revealed that 60 percent of women in the U.S. report only getting a good night’s sleep a few nights a week or less, leaving them pressed for time, stressed out, and too tired for romance and spending time with their friends.
I recommend these sleep tips to help parents and children get back to their regular sleep schedules:
- Keep a regular sleep schedule and avoid extremes on weekends. Having a regular bedtime increases the likelihood that kids — including teens — will get optimal sleep.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Reading before bed is a good choice for kids of all ages and for parents.
- Create a sleep environment that is cool, quiet, dimly lit and comfortable.
- Keep television, video games and other electronics out of the bedroom. The NSF’s 2006 Sleep in America poll revealed that having electronic devices in the bedroom is associated with an increased risk of falling asleep in class and while doing homework. Eliminate exposure to electronic media (television, video and computer games, etc.) within an hour of bedtime.
- Limit caffeine, especially after lunchtime.
- Eat well and exercise.
The NSF’s 2006 poll also showed an awareness gap between kids and their parents. While more than half of adolescents reported not getting the sleep they need, 90 percent percent of parents felt that their adolescent was getting enough sleep. Parents should talk to their children about their sleep and seek help for any apparent sleep problems.
Since kids learn by example, consider these sleep-smart pointers for parents:
- Be an example by practicing good sleep habits yourself. If this is the norm in your household, your kids are less likely to adopt bad ones.
- Talk to your kids about the importance of healthy sleep and the consequences of sleepiness, including drowsy driving.
- Recognize that children — including teens — need more sleep than adults. Children who have difficulty waking in the morning on more than three days a week or who snore may not be getting adequate sleep and should be evaluated by a specialist.
- Establish a one-hour “electronic-free” time before bedtime.
- Ask teachers whether your child is alert or sleepy during class, and take steps to improve your child’s sleep if you feel that he or she may have a sleep problem.
To learn more about the NSF, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving greater understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, visit http://sleepfoundation.org.
Karen Block is the owner/administrator of Endeavor Therapy & Sleep Center, 11649 North Port Washington Road in Mequon, a sleep diagnostic facility that is offering free ApneaLink™ sleep screenings as a community awareness project to help educate people about their sleep. Endeavor is open seven nights a week for their patients’ convenience and is one-quarter of the cost of the hospital sleep labs. For more information about sleep issues or to schedule your free ApneaLink™ sleep screening, call 262-241-8892 or visit http://endeavortherapyandsleep.com.