There is less than one week until the first day of school for , and families are bracing to segue from laid-back, sleepy summer routines to the regimented days of juggling jobs, homework and after-school activities.
Unfortunately, there are times that these highly scheduled days make it very challenging for parents to maintain a regular bedtime for children and teens. As parents, we do everything we can to ensure that our children succeed in school but sometimes we forget that a long, restful sleep is one of the best ways to be sure that school age children will efficiently absorb the day’s lessons.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, school age children need 10 to 11 hours sleep every night but few are getting the required amount. According to local experts, sleep deprivation among school age children has become an increasingly worrisome problem, one that leads to a multitude of problems at school.
West Hartford pediatrician Dr. Nima Patel has taken care of children for 35 years. Through those years she has always been a big proponent of a regular bedtime for children.
The technological age has only made her more adamant on this point. “I am seeing many more children sleep-deprived because of technology. They have their smart phones, the computer, their iPads and they are on them all the time. I think parents need to keep an eye on that and there should be rules and regulations in every household that say by such time they are in bed.”
She emphasizes that there is a biological reason that children need a good night’s rest. “I always tell my kids that they must have at least nine or ten hours sleep to make their brains work as they should. If they don’t get enough sleep there is no way they can give 100 percent attention in school the next day and they will not learn."
In addition to focusing better, Patel tells her patients, especially the teens, that sleep is also critical for their growth. “When you are resting and sleeping, that is when the growth hormone secretes the most. Teenagers don’t realize if they want to add inches they need a good night’s sleep because that is when they are going to grow the fastest."
She advises parents to make certain that all electronic devices are turned off at least one hour before their child’s bedtime to create a calming, sleep-inducing environment.
While Patel acknowledges the vital importance of physical activity for children and its role in a restful sleep, she advocates a balanced approach to family life, which many times can be consumed with sports activities. She cautions parents to remember that practices and games should not preclude eating or playing together as a family.
“It is important for children to understand that it is critical to spend time with their parents. And parents must understand also that simple activities like swimming, bicycling, and hiking together give the same amount of exercise as organized sports.”
For 15 years, second grade teacher Erica Moses has always made it a point to ask her classes what time they are sent to bed. Most of the time, she states, the answer is between 7:30 and 8 p.m. “There’s always the wise guy who says, ‘Oh, I don’t have a bedtime or I go to bed at midnight,’” Moses says laughing. “But I know better. I can tell when they are tired.”
She says that technology like television, computers, and Facebook is not yet a bedtime distraction for her seven-year-old charges. “In this age group, the kids are usually reading. Or bedtime can be disrupted by a change in family lifestyle – like Mom or Dad travelling for business. In that case, I’m usually given a heads-up that the child might be a little thrown off.”
By puberty, though, the media and the internet can easily become a nighttime habit – one that Patel calls “addictive.” She warns, “Once you are on it, it’s hard to get off. It’s up to the parents to discipline their children and tell them by this time at night, you can not use your smartphone, television or computer.”
The National Sleep Foundation recommends these sleep tips for school age children. They are simple and something for parents to bear in mind as the new school year launches.
- Teach school-aged children about healthy sleep habits.
- Continue to emphasize need for regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
- Make child’s bedroom conducive to sleep – dark, cool and quiet.
- Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom.
- Avoid caffeine.