|As summer draws to a close, families are preparing their children for the start of the new school year. And while buying new clothes, shoes, and school supplies are on every parent's "to do" list, getting kids back on a regular sleep schedule should also be a top priority.
Dr. Alan Hilfer, Chief Psychologist and Associate Director of Child & Adolescent Outpatient Services, recommends children get at least nine hours of sleep each night on a regular basis to ensure their health, safety, and best performance in school and other activities.
"Not enough sleep makes it harder for children to concentrate," Dr. Hilfer says. "It also makes it more difficult for kids to come home and have the energy to do their homework." Inadequate sleep in children can lead to attention difficulties, easy frustration, and difficulty controlling emotions. A full night's sleep is just as important as healthy eating and regular exercise for a child’s development.
To get kids on a regular sleep schedule, Dr. Hilfer suggests moving bedtime up 30 minutes a day for a week and making sure that TVs, computers, games and cell phones are not in their bedrooms. He also advises parents to carefully choose their words when enforcing bedtime. "Explain to the kids, it's not that they have to go to sleep, it's that they should be in bed," he says.
The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR) provides the following tips to help children get a good night's sleep:
"It’s not about telling your kids to go to sleep,” Dr. Hilfer says. “It’s telling them to go to bed." Once in bed, a new sleep schedule will take hold and your children will be better prepared for a new school year.
- Establish a regular bedtime and stick to it. Setting a regular bedtime and wake up time reinforces a child's biological clock, making it easier to fall asleep quickly and awake feeling fully rested and alert.
- Eliminate distractions in your child’s room. If there's a television or computer in the bedroom, establish another place where kids can use them.
- Avoid feeding your child a big meal too close to bedtime. A heavy meal close to bedtime can keep a child awake at night.
- Avoid sodas and other beverages with caffeine. Consuming anything with caffeine less than six hours before bedtime can interfere with a good night's sleep.
- Build in quiet time before bedtime. Because the days are still long, children may want to go outside to play after dinner. But make sure they come back inside in enough time to allow some time to relax before bedtime.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Is it a bath in the evening, followed by a book? Or the reverse? Try different routines; find out what works best, and stick to it.
- Make sure the room is dark and quiet and the bed is comfortable. Use a nightlight if your child finds the dark scary.
- Maintain a comfortable room temperature. Be sure the bedroom isn't too hot or too cold, and that pajamas are comfortable and seasonal.