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Adjusting Sleep Habits When School Starts

​​​​​​Summer’s longer daylight hours make it easy for school-year bedtime routines to get off kilter or slip away completely. 

mom and daughter 

Recapture healthy sleep habits for you and your kids and establish a year-round routine. Your family will feel refreshed and ready to enjoy the day, no matter the season.

Recommended hours of sleep change as children grow and can vary from one child to the next. “Pre-school children need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep every night,” said Neurologist and Sleep Medicine Physician Sharat Ahluwalia, M.D., Marshfield Clinic Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire Centers. “For elementary school-age children the range is lower, from nine to 12 hours. For adolescents and teens, it is lower still, ranging from eight to nine hours.”

Keeping regular wake-up and sleep times, despite more daylight time and irregular summer vacation schedules, is recommended. “Some children can transition in and out of regular bedtime routines easily and others cannot,” said Dr. Ahluwalia. “Creating a balanced schedule can help reduce sleep deprivation and its side effects.”

Children without adequate sleep tend to be more irritable, may have difficulty concentrating on schoolwork, and may become easily frustrated or hyperactive. Teens without adequate sleep are more prone to sleeping late or daytime sleepiness and napping.

“A child should fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes after going to bed,” said Dr. Ahluwalia. “Generally, you will know if your child is getting enough sleep if you don’t have to do continual reminders to get up, if your child is awake and alert in the morning, and if your child is not napping during the day.”

Many children snore when they are sleeping. Snoring is caused by of a blockage of air when it passes through the mouth. “Children who suffer from sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing is obstructed during sleep, may have behavior problems in school, may have headaches when they wake up in the morning and may tend to dream a lot,” said Dr. Ahluwalia. “If the snoring is loud, and especially if it includes pauses in breath or gasping, talk with your child’s doctor.”

What is good for children is good for parents as well. Establishing a good bedtime routine for you and your children can make a difference in your family being well rested. Take a closer look at activities just before bedtime, the sleep environment and your family’s overall lifestyle.

“Getting a good night’s sleep starts with 15 to 30 minutes of quiet time before going to bed,” said Dr. Ahluwalia. “Discourage television, video games, computer time or exercise right before bedtime. Reading is a good alternative.”

Avoid late day food or beverages that contain caffeine, such as hot chocolate, tea or cola. Also, look around the child’s bedroom. “If there are too many toys in the bed, these can be a distraction from sleep,” said Dr. Ahluwalia. “For older children, it’s best to turn off electronic devices and not sleep with ear buds in and music playing,” he said.

Think about your family’s schedule throughout the week. “Your body has a natural clock that regulates what is called the sleep cycle. Consistent bed- and wake-up times can train the brain to help the body get enough healthy sleep,” said Dr. Ahluwalia. “Overloaded schedules can be stressful and difficult for children to cope with. Using the weekend to catch up on sleep can further disrupt an off-kilter sleep cycle. It’s best to establish a routine you can keep most days.”