New School Year Ideal Time to Get Kid's Sleep Back on Track

Most adults complain about being tired. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones who are not getting enough sleep. Children and teens also are falling short of the recommended amount of shut eye they need each night. When children don’t get enough sleep, their performance at school slips and they may easily give in to sugary food or caffeinated beverages (just like adults) to help get them through the day.

With school right around the corner, now is the ideal time to address sleeping habits and help kids get the sleep they need. On average, preschoolers should get 10 to 12 hours of sleep while those ages 7 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep. Teens should get between eight and nine hours of sleep a night (some teens may actually need more – especially if they’re going through a growth spurt.)

To make sure your children get the correct amount, figure out when they need to get up for school and count backwards from then to get to their ideal bedtime. You won’t be able to immediately switch with their bedtimes. Instead move up their bedtimes 10 or 15 minutes a day in the weeks leading up to school starting.

Here are some tips to help children (and you) wind down leading up to bed so your body is ready for sleep:

  • Be consistent. Have a set bedtime and keep it. Yes, there may be exceptions, but if you let your child stay up two hours later every Friday and Saturday night, getting them to go to sleep at their normal time come Sunday night won’t be pleasant. The same goes with wake-up times. They can sleep in a little later on the weekends, but don’t let it be longer than an hour.
  • Adopt a routine. When your kids were infants and toddlers, you probably had a set bedtime routine – put on PJs, reading, brushing teeth and then saying prayers or singing them a song. Now that the kids are older, routines work just as well. They will be different, of course. Instead of reading to your child, have them read on their own.
  • Shut off all screens an hour before bedtime. Screens – whether it’s a TV, gaming device or iPad – all emit blue light, which stimulates your brain and can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Also, remove all phones, TVs or other electronic devices from your kids’ rooms since they may interfere with their sleep. (By the way, these are great tips for adults, too.)
  • Don’t go to bed hungry. An hour or two before bedtime, offer your child a light snack, such as milk, fruit or a couple of crackers. Stay away from anything with sugar and notice I said “light” snack – this isn’t time for a second dinner.

If you follow these steps and your child has problems sleeping or is always tired, please see your family physician to rule out any potential medical issues. Your medical provider might also have a few other ideas to help your child get a good night’s sleep.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at scott.schuldes@thedacare.org.