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!
If your high-school-aged teen has struggled getting up for school in the morning, you are not alone. What has been commonly observed, that adolescents’ sleep cycle shifts as they hit puberty so that adolescents become night owls, have trouble waking up in the morning, and then experience excessive sleepiness during the day – has recently received national attention as a public health issue.
With the benefit of neuroscience we now know that teens aren’t just lazy; their natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m. and wake up before 8:00 a.m. This is because adolescents’ biological sleep-wake cycle begins to shift two to three hours later at the start of puberty. This sleep-phase shift affects teenagers around the world, regardless of parenting methods, technology use, or sleep hygiene. Even adolescents in pre-industrial cultures without cell phones or computers develop the same sleep-cycle delay.
Concussion Care for Active Children and Adolescents in Fairfield County
Despite taking precautions, active children and adolescents may experience head injuries, need to be evaluated, and appropriate return to school and play guidelines must be provided. Year round, Willows Pediatrics is committed to providing complete, consistent and comprehensive concussion management for our patients. However, with school starting and “Concussion Season” upon us, we want to review the services and expertise Willows Pediatrics can provide to children and adolescents who experience a head injury. Read More
Bacterial meningitis (infection around the spinal cord and brain) or sepsis (infection in the blood stream) is an extremely serious illness. The bacterium Neisseria meningitis (meningococous) is a cause of meningitis or septic shock in adolescents and young adults.
Even with appropriate antibiotics and intensive care, between 10 and 15 percent of people who develop meningococcal disease die, and another 10 to 20 percent suffer complications, such as brain damage or limb loss. Read More
If you could protect your child against a cancer-causing virus with three doses of a safe and effective vaccine, why wouldn’t you? While most parents are committed to vaccinating their child against all vaccine preventable diseases, some parents are still reluctant to have their child receive the HPV vaccine. In response to these concerns, Willows Pediatrics wants to remind families about the benefits of the vaccine and why we recommend it.
Whether it’s the CMTs, the SATs or a middle school math final, the doctors at Willows Pediatrics know that test-taking can cause anxiety in students. In fact, children who are anxious might even perform below their true abilities when taking a test.
According to Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist at the University of Chicago and the aother of Choke: What The Secrets Of The Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, “when students are anxious, their worries use up some of their working memory, leaving fewer cognitive resources to devote to the test.”
The good news is that test anxiety can be easily relieved. A recent article in Time magazine said that having students spend about 10 minutes prior to taking a test writing about their thoughts and feelings—a practice called expressive writing—proved helpful. Students’ test scores significantly improved after engaging in expressive writing.
Another writing exercise asked students to write briefly about something they valued and to describe why it matters to them. This values-affirmation exercise also improved test performance.
In addition, it’s important for students to learn how to prepare for a test. Instead of just reading over notes, they should practice answering questions in the same way they will be posed on a test. As one psychologist in the Time magazine article said, “You would never just read over your lines and show up on the opening night of the school play, right?” It’s the same thing with test-taking.
Finally, never underestimate the power of deep breathing. Relaxing before a test by focusing on breathing and on tensing then relaxing muscle groups can have a huge effect in reducing test anxiety!
If your student has severe test-taking anxiety, please feel free to talk make an appointment for a behavioral consultation. We can also refer our patients to mental-health professionals when necessary.
Please Note: Even though head lice may be a nuisance, before checking or treating your child it is helpful to remember they don’t cause serious illness or carry any diseases.
What are head lice?
Head lice are tiny insects. They are about 2 mm to 3 mm long. Their bodies are rectangular shaped and usually pale gray in color. Head lice feed on tiny amounts of blood from the scalp. Lice typically survive less than a day if not on a person’s scalp.
When a child has lice, the first thing you may notice is itching, especially in the nape of the neck or behind the ears. If you look, you will probably see nits – these are tiny white eggs and shell casings that are attached to the hair. Nits are oval or teardrop shaped and attach to the hair via a sticky substance that holds them firmly in place. After the eggs hatch, the empty nits remain attached to the hair shaft until they are physically removed. It is also possible to see lice moving on the scalp, but more commonly parents see the nits first. Read More
One of the questions we are asked fairly often here at Willows Pediatrics is, “when is it appropriate to leave my child home alone?” It’s an interesting topic, and one we will address today.
Most states, like Connecticut, do not have laws regarding a minimum age for a child to be left alone. Here’s what our state has to say about it:
Connecticut law does not specify at what age a child may be left home alone. When deciding whether or not to leave a child home alone, a parent should consider the child’s age. Many experts believe that children should be at least 12 years of age before they are allowed to stay home alone. Experts also believe that children should be over the age of 15 before caring for a younger sibling. Read More
Much of what we do at Willows Pediatrics concerns combating disease and maintaining physical health. Yet there is also a large behavioral and emotional component to being a pediatrician, and we do our best to counsel our patients and their parents as they go through developmental stages and experience life’s challenges.
We’ve read studies reporting that 20-30% of students in school are involved in bullying (either as the bully or the victim), making bullying an issue we would like to address.
Bullying is defined differently in different venues, but one accepted definition is that, “a person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.” The Westport Public Schools have a detailed bullying policy, which includes punishment for bullying behavior that takes place in school, on school property or at school-sponsored events.
Talking to your child is the most important part of keeping him or her safe. For young children you can play-act a bullying scenario and practice what he or she should say to a bully. It’s important to teach your child to use words like “Please do NOT talk to me like that” and actions like staying calm and knowing when to walk away. It is also important to let your child know that bullying is not his or her fault … and that he or she should not be afraid to ask an adult for help.
For older children, bullying can be more subtle and can also involve Cyberbullying. Since it can be harder to get teens and adolescents to open up, keep alert for changes in your child’s behavior such as frequent headaches, stomachaches, and frequently feeling down. Any of these could be a sign of bullying.
On the flipside, if your child is bullying others, we encourage you to take this very seriously. The AAP has noted that when bullies become adults they are much less successful in their work and family lives, and may even have trouble with the law. It’s best to treat these behaviors when children are young. Some things you can do include:
Having a teenager who is learning to drive can be one of parenthood’s most nerve-racking times. Not only are our children being given the keys to more freedom, they are being given control of a potentially dangerous motor vehicle.
Here in Fairfield County, where highways can be dicey and back roads can be slippery, encouraging our youngest drivers to navigate the roads safely is of the utmost importance. Here are some sobering statistics from the CDC: Read More