Healthy Sleep Habits for School

Little girl sleeping

I get more questions about sleep than almost anything else in my practice.  There are different problems that tend to spring up at different ages, and over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss sleeping issues in various stages of the under 5 crowd. But today, we’re going to talk about setting up good sleep habits for the school-aged kids.

School is super important for our kids.  And for our kids to perform their best, they need to get enough sleep.  But with getting up early, homework, extra-curricular activities, and general down-time, how much is enough?  In general, your elementary and middle school kids need 9-11 hours per night.  And your teens need 8-10 hours per night.  Are your kids getting enough?

How can you help make sure your kid gets enough sleep?

Aim for a reasonable bedtime

During downtime when your kid’s schedule is more flexible, how much sleep do they need?  My youngest does best with about 10, my teen functions pretty well on 9.  What time does your kiddo have to get up in the morning?  Use the wakeup time and work backwards..  Is it earlier than you thought?  Me too!!  But try going with it and see what happens.  Chronic lack of sleep leads to cranky kids.  And those are no fun.

Power down before bed

If you’re not already doing so, encourage electronics to go off 1-2 hours before bed.  This means phones, tablets, TVs, electronic gaming systems, computers.  Not easy!!  In fact, if your little has spent the entire afternoon doing homework and participating in after school practices, you may get a pretty good fight about this one.

The reason we recommend turning off the electronics 1-2 hours before bed is that the blue lights in back-lit screens can give too much stimulation to the brain and actually prevent your body from producing melatonin which makes you feel sleepy.  Are your kids currently staying on electronics right up till sleepy-time?  It’s ok to start slow.  Turn them off 30 minutes before bed and gradually back it up if it’s a challenge.  And be very matter of fact about what you’re doing and why.  They don’t have to like it.  (And we don’t either!!)  But it will help the sleep.

Turn down the lights

As it gets closer to bedtime, try turning off the overhead lights and switching on lamps instead.  Over time this will become a great subconscious trigger to your kid’s brain that it’s time to start winding down.  This works in the same way the lights in electronics work.  Too much light=poor melatonin production.  So help your kid’s body do its job.

Find a Nighttime Sleep Ritual

In the hour or two before bed, encourage your kids to try different non-stimulating activities to wind down.  This is a great time for reading either as a family or individually.  And what could be more cozy than warm snuggly blankets and a good book?!  Light a couple of candles and I dare you not to feel happy! (PSA… make sure to keep an eye on those lit candles though… house fires are NO JOKE.)

If your kiddos haven’t yet embraced their love of reading, you could read aloud to them or even listen to an audio book together.  What about coloring?  Will all the really cool coloring books out there now, it’s easy to find something for every interest.  Writing in a journal is another wonderful way to get all the extra brain stuff out before getting a good night’s sleep.

What about working on a puzzle as a family or embracing some old-fashioned board games?  Card games like Go Fish and Old Maid are fun and not overly stimulating.  But this is probably not a great time for Monopoly or Pie in the Face!  Choose wisely 😉

Lights off at same time

Try to tuck your kiddo in at the same time every night.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we are creatures of habit.  After a couple of weeks of the same bedtime/wake time cycle, the battle will turn in your favor.

Don’t stray too far on the weekends

Although it’s fine and normal for your schedule to be more relaxed on the weekends, try not to get TOO far off your school week schedule.  We still need good sleep even on the weekends 🙂

How does your family wind down in the evenings?  Any go-to rituals that keep you all grounded?  Feel free to share!

 

 

Author: Dr. Jenny Seawell

Dr. Jennifer Seawell is a board certified pediatrician currently practicing in Tennessee. She is married with 2 daughters aged 7 and 13.

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