With school in session in some districts and right around the corner for others, it’s time to think about getting children back into a regular routine, including a healthy sleep schedule.
As a parent of twin boys, I remember what summer was like between school years — staying up late with friends, watching movies and outdoor activities like cookouts and evening swimming. It was sometimes a battle getting back to a normal schedule, but getting enough sleep is one of the best things parents can do to ensure their child does well in school.
Research by the National Sleep Foundation shows that children who don’t get enough sleep get lower grades and have difficulty paying attention in class. They also tend to be more overweight and exhibit symptoms of attention deficit disorder. Too little sleep also can lead to feelings of depression.
Health experts suggest that young children need 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night and recommend nine hours for adolescents. That takes some planning. That means homework, extra-curricular activities and dinner need to happen in the afternoon and early evening. Try not to overextend your children. I like the rule that some parents follow of choosing one enrichment activity such as music or sports, and one activity that is just for fun, something your kids simply love, such as painting or horseback riding. Space activities out as much as possible to allow the optimal amount of sleep time.
Gauge your child. If he is an early riser, save bath time, lunches and picking out clothes for the morning. But if your child loves to sleep in a bit, consider doing all of that planning before bedtime.
The National Sleep Foundation offers some tips on helping get children into a school-time sleep schedule. These include starting an incrementally early bedtime and wake-up time in the weeks leading up to the start of school. You might establish some bedtime routines such as turning off the television and other electronics earlier in the evening and spending some quiet time reading. Avoid large evening meals or caffeine before bedtime.
Make sure the bedroom is a peaceful environment as free of distractions as possible. One thing several parents have suggested is setting parental controls on cell phones and computers so your child is not tempted to stay up all night texting or emailing their friends.
Children may not be very excited about having to go to bed earlier, but parents can build in some fun by buying new sheets or new pajamas. Invest in a new nightlight for young children or a new alarm clock for teens. Help your child clean and organize his or her room before school starts. Box up old clothes and toys to give to a local charity or thrift store. Organize games, toys and books so they feel fresh to your child. Set up an area for study. New paper, pencils and markers are always fun.
One other thing the National Sleep Foundation suggests is that parents be good role models. Adults need sleep too.
JANET BARRESI is state superintendent of public instruction for Oklahoma.