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Make sure your child gets enough ZZZZ’s for back to school

August 07, 2014

New school backpack? Check. New sneakers for gym? Check. Gone over safety rules while on the bus? Check. Start going to bed earlier? Trouble.

What child really wants to go to bed earlier, especially after a summer of staying up later and sleeping longer in the morning?

"You don’t want a sleep-deprived child yawning throughout the school day or nodding off in the classroom," said Dr. Anthony Jackson, a sleep specialist in Pediatric Neurology at Baystate Children’s Hospital. "Tired students are known to have more difficulty concentrating in the classroom and retaining what they’ve learned, and they tend to make more mistakes."

A gradual adjustment

Now is the time to start adjusting your child’s sleep habits so when the school bell rings for the first day, the ringing of their alarm clock in the early morning won’t be as upsetting to their schedule. The Baystate Children’s Hospital sleep specialist suggested a week or two before school begins to start adjusting your child’s bedtime to what it will be on school nights. The sooner you begin to adjust their daily schedule, the easier the transition will be.

"For example, you should have your child begin to go to bed about 15 minutes earlier each night of the week leading up to school, until he or she is able to get the recommended amount of sleep for their age group. Then, you need to stick that schedule on schooldays, weekends and holidays," said Dr. Jackson. "In the morning, open the blinds or curtains to expose your child to bright sunlight. This helps set the body’s biological clock for the day and your child should be able to fall asleep more easily that night."

Health concerns

But, falling asleep in the classroom isn’t the only thing you have to worry about. A study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute linked poor sleep in teens – ages 13 to 16 – to high blood pressure. Researchers found that teens who got less than 6 ½ hours of sleep were 2 ½ times more likely to have elevated blood pressure than teens who slept longer.

Other studies reveal that inadequate sleep can result in poor eating habits, reduced levels of exercise, and poor academic performance. Studies also associate lack of sleep with an increased risk of health problems such as depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Emotional and cognitive problems that may arise due to lack of sleep include moodiness or irritability, reduced memory functioning, delayed reaction time, and a lack of motivation.

Most school-aged children and teens need at least nine hours of sleep in order to reach their full potential in school and in their personal lives.

Getting a good night's sleep

Baystate Medical Center’s Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Center and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine offer some tips to share with your children:

  • Limit "sleeping in" on the weekends, which makes it harder to wake up for school on Monday.
  • Get homework done plenty of time in advance of bedtime and do not stay up all hours of the night to "cram" for an exam.
  • Don’t study, read, watch television or talk on the phone in bed.
  • Avoid foods or drinks that contain caffeine, as well as any medicine that acts as a stimulant, before bedtime.
  • Eat a small snack before bedtime to avoid going to bed hungry.
  • Avoid any rigorous exercise within six hours of bedtime.
  • Signal to your body that it’s bedtime by avoiding bright lights.
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Make the bedroom quiet, dark and a little bit cool.