Mention the word “bedtime” in the summer and you’re sure to get groans from kids of any age. That’s especially true of teenagers who have spent the summer staying out late and sleeping until noon.
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But when it’s time to go back to school, getting back into healthy sleep patterns is a necessity for having the right amount of focus and energy in the classroom.
“Anyone who’s had jet lag can relate to the feeling they can have when adjusting their sleep schedule,” says pediatric sleep specialist Vaishal Shah, MD. “You’re sleeping at the wrong times, your mind is foggy, it is difficult to wake up and you don’t feel sharp.”
4 tips for school-year sleep habits
If your kids — or you — have lapsed into a “late to bed, late to rise” sleep routine this summer, here are Dr. Shah’s tips for getting back into proper school-year sleep routines:
1. Know the right amount. According to the National Sleep Foundation and American Academy of Sleep Medicine, kids ages 5-12 need 9 to 12 hours of sleep. Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep to function at their best. The amount of sleep adults need ranges between 7 and 9 hours.
2. Go 15 minutes at a time. “It’s not a good idea to wait until the day before school starts to make changes,” says Dr. Shah. Start by shifting their wake time earlier by 15 minutes every two to three days, then calculate the right bedtime based on the amount of sleep they need. “Adjusting their wake time by two hours could take a one to two weeks,” he says.
3. Provide the right get-to-sleep conditions. “The last one hour before bedtime should be relatively quiet and calming,” Dr. Shah says. That means no exercise, no caffeine, cell phones off and no television. The sun still sets late in the early weeks of the school year, so use heavy drapes that darken the room at bedtime. Darkness signals their bodies that it’s time to sleep and allows natural melatonin to rise which helps us fall asleep. Allow bright sunlight in when it’s time to wake up.
4. Take sleep deprivation seriously. “I liken it to cigarette smoking,” says Dr. Shah. “Smoking one cigarette does not kill a person, but long-term smoking does affect people’s health. If you don’t get enough sleep for a long enough period of time, it begins to take a toll on your health.” Sleeping problems make chronic diseases harder to treat, he says, and contributes to a lack of energy, low pain tolerance, changes in hormone levels and a decline in learning and critical thinking. A sleep deprived brain doesn’t make best decisions in every aspect of life.