New clothes and school supplies aren’t the only things children need before school starts. Many will make the transition from late summer nights playing video games to early mornings catching the bus.
That transition is easier if it’s started early, according to a local sleep expert.
Chuck Fricks, clinical coordinator for the CHRISTUS St. Michael Sleep Disorders Center, said it’s best if parents get children started on the transition a couple of weeks before school starts.
“If they’ve been staying up until 9 or 10 and you want to drop bedtime back to 8 then you need to do it in small, 15-minute increments. When it’s done abruptly, you’re affecting their circadian rhythm,” he said.
Fricks used the time change as an example of how people are affected when someone’s sleep cycle changes all at once.
“Even with a normal sleep schedule, the time change makes you feel bad for a couple of weeks before you come out of it and get back to normal,” he said.
Throughout the school year it’s important to make sure children and teenagers are getting enough sleep because if they’re not, it can affect their ability to learn, their performance in school and their attitude.
“It can reduce cognitive performance. What we see are tired kids who have trouble waking up in the morning, falling asleep in class or falling asleep as soon as they get home from school. Some kids may even become hyperactive with reduced sleep. They lose that sharpness and their mind isn’t awake and ready to learn,” Fricks said.
The hours of sleep needed vary depending on a child’s age.
“Elementary-age kids and preteens need 10 to 11 hours of sleep depending on kid to be functioning at their best. A high schooler needs nine to 10 hours of sleep. That’s what’s recommended on average,” Fricks said.
Parents are advised to watch for signs of a sleep disorder
“If a child is having these types of problems (sleepiness, behavior issues) in school and their sleep cycle is normal that’s when it’s time to reach out to their pediatrician or a sleep doctor,” he said. “Like adults kids can have sleep apnea. That’s the most common issue we see. Sometimes kids get diagnosed with ADHD and it’s a sleep disorder.”
Recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation include:
n children 6 to 13 get nine to 11 hours of sleep per night.
n introducing an electronic curfew, which means stopping any type of screen time an hour before children fall asleep. Artificial blue light that comes from electronics can reduce or suppress the body’s release of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep.
n create a relaxing routine for children that includes turning the lights down low or off and setting aside time for quiet activities like reading, bathing, story time or listening to soothing music.