Back to school: Tips to help children get enough sleep
As summer comes to an end and families get ready to send children back to school, there is one time of day that can be particularly hard –– bedtime.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) advises that children ages 6 through 12 should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night, and teens should get 8 to 10 hours. But, when it is time to go back to school and have an earlier wake-up time, kids often have difficulty getting enough sleep.
Teng Ji, M.D., a pediatric neurologist specializing in sleep medicine with Randall Children’s Neurology, has some tips for parents to help kids keep getting a good night’s sleep as school starts again.
Move bed times gradually, not all at once. Dr. Ji warns, “It is hard for the body when there are sudden changes in the sleep routine. If you send your child to bed two hours earlier one day, they likely won’t be asleep when they are in bed.” Instead she suggests moving bedtime gradually, by about 15 to 20 minutes every few days, until your child is going to bed early enough.
Check in with your child about how they are feeling about the start of school. Children who are feeling stress about the start of school may have trouble sleeping. “Even very young children may feel some anxiety about the start of school if they have had social or academic challenges,” says Dr. Ji. “If you see your child is having trouble sleeping, talk to them about how they are feeling so you know how to help them.”
Make sure your child’s bedroom is dark enough. Dr. Ji notes that light interferes with sleep, whether it is coming from outside or from something in the room. Use curtains thick enough to block out any outside lights and make sure your child doesn’t have a device in the room that might distract them from sleep.
Have a routine to help your child get to sleep. “Exercise and activity are great,” says Dr. Ji. “But too close to bed time can leave children too stimulated to sleep.” She suggests planning for some quiet time with activities like reading before children go to bed so they are calm and ready to sleep.
These tips are intended to help parents address some of the common sleep problems that can come up around the start of the school year. If your child is having more ongoing problems with sleep, talk to your pediatrician about whether a referral to a sleep specialist could help.