As we head into the school year, especially during this uncertain time, we thought it was a good time to talk about sleep.
Sleep is critical for many reasons. We are sure you have heard how important it is for growth and development and for encoding new memories. We also know not getting enough sleep can contribute to inattention, trouble focusing, and mood changes.
Right now, kids and adults are dealing with a lot of uncertainty. It can be extremely helpful for children and teens to have a consistent routine.
How much sleep do children need?
Of course, every child is different! But here are some general guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Bedtime at our house has moved later and later, how do we move it back?
It is common for bedtimes to shift over the summer when it is lighter later and we don’t have to get up early for school. This is especially true this year since summer was preceded by several months of remote school. We recommend gradually shifting your child’s sleep schedule earlier.
Here are some strategies:
- Starting a few weeks before school, wake your child up a little earlier each morning (try 15 minutes) and get ready for bed a little earlier each night
- Get morning sunlight, this helps reset our biological clock
- Try to get some active time each day
- Put away screens 1 hour before bedtime
- Limit snacks and sweets a few hours before bedtime
- Establish a consistent routine that you can repeat each night so your child knows what to expect
- Have a family discussion about the sleep plan so that your child will understand the new routine.
Why are screens bad for sleep?
Electronic devices such as tablets and phones emit an artificial blue light, which tricks the body into thinking it is daytime. Blue light suppresses your body’s natural release of melatonin. Melatonin induces sleep as part of your circadian rhythm, your body’s internal clock. Using screens later at night disrupts your body’s natural sleep drive.
We encourage parents to establish a bedtime routine that does not include screens. Instead encourage other quiet activities such as reading a print book or journaling.
Do you have any specific advice for teens?
Sleep is especially important but also difficult for teens. The biological clock in teenagers is shifted later, meaning they often have trouble initiating sleep as early as would like. Here are some tips especially for them:
- Have a conversation with your teen about sleep and getting back on track for school. Try to get their buy in, help them understand why you are doing this.
- Lots of teens are sleeping in late this summer; start getting them up earlier to help them adjust to an earlier bedtime.
Advice for teens (continued)
- Set an electronics curfew and store phones outside of the bedroom overnight. This is a great habit for teens to establish. We are all addicted to our phones but we want to protect our teens from this as much as possible.
- Use an alarm clock that is not their phone! A traditional alarm clock is a worthwhile investment. They even make mobile ones, for hard to wake teens (check out Clocky).
- Make your teen’s bed only for sleep. The brain will associate the bed with being awake if your teen spends the day lounging or doing remote school there. If possible, try to have your teen do their schoolwork in a different location.
What if I have other questions or these tips are not working?
We are here to help! These tips are just a starting point. We are happy to discuss your individual child and family. Please give your physician or PA a call!