GUEST COLUMN: Your Back-to-School Good ZZZ’s Guide

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The new school year is here, which means the lazy, relaxed days of summer have been replaced with hectic school mornings, homework and after-school activities. Most likely, your kids have been staying up late and sleeping in during the summer break, so getting them back to a healthy sleep routine may be a challenge.

“Lack of sleep is not just an issue of motivating cranky children in the mornings,” said Dr. Lisa Fairchild, Pediatrics. “Studies have shown that lack of quality sleep increases the likelihood of anxiety, depression, poor academic performance and even physical pain. It can also lead to metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes.”

Kids need more sleep than you may think to function adequately during the day. If uncertain how much sleep your child needs to be at his or her best, consider the following guidelines:

  • Ages 5-8: 10-11 hours per night
  • Ages 9-12: 9.5-10 hours per night
  • Ages 13-18: 8.5-9.5 hours per night

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Knowing how much sleep your child needs is the first step in establishing an appropriate bedtime. You may find you need to tweak a little earlier or later until you’re confident that your child wakes fairly easily in the morning, and appears alert and refreshed.

It’s no surprise that the effects of poor sleep are very similar for children and adults. Perhaps your own sleep patterns have shifted over the summer, and it’s time for the whole family to undergo a sleep tune-up. The following recommendations are widely agreed upon by physicians and sleep experts, and can be used to get the whole family ready for the faster pace of the school year:

  1. Consistency is key. It’s important to stay consistent with your bedtime schedule once you’ve made the transition, meaning weekends too. Allowing kids to stay up late on the weekends can damage the routine you’re trying to establish.
  2. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine. A relaxing bath or walk after dinner, a book with a parent for younger kids, or silent reading time for older kids, are all good ways to wind down to sleep. The body becomes accustomed to these routines, and will eventually find an easy rhythm as the sun starts setting earlier and earlier.
  3. Turn off electronics. All electronics — including TVs, computers and mobile devices — should be shut down at least one hour before target bedtimes. Not only is digital content mentally stimulating, but the artificial light emitting from them tricks the brain into thinking it should be awake.
  4. Create an ideal sleep environment. We should associate our beds only with sleep — not reading, checking email or watching TV. Make sure the sleep space is quiet, dimly lit or dark, and cool (between 68 and 72 degrees). White noise from a fan or sound machine is very helpful for some who struggle to fall asleep quickly. Parents should be mindful that some kids struggle with sensory issues, so ensure comfortable and familiar sheets, pillowcases and blankets are available.
  5. Healthy food and exercise. Kids should get plenty of physical exercise during the day, up to an hour or so before dinnertime. Avoid feeding children fatty or processed foods, and keep sugar and caffeine intake to a minimum. Poor nutrition is the most likely cause of sleep disturbances, for both children and adults.

Remember the impact of a positive role model. Parents who eat well, prioritize physical activity and invest in their own proper care and rest, raise healthy children who prioritize these things as well. And if someone in your family is struggling with sleep problems, don’t assume it’s insignificant. There are many sleep disorders that can affect both adults and children, and that are easily treatable with the partnership of a qualified physician.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Fairchild, or any of our other pediatricians, call 601-883-6001 or visit MyMeritDoctor.com.