Better sleep hygiene for back to school brains!
As the weather changes and summer camps draw to a close, the next school year appears just around the corner. Summer habits can be hard to break, especially summer sleeping habits like late bed times and daytime naps. The consequences of poor sleep in school-aged children can be detrimental to their developing minds and bodies. There are many easy to follow behavioral and environmental changes you can make in your home to improve your child’s sleep hygiene, optimize their academic performance, and hopefully avoid having to use sleep medications:
-Construct a sleep schedule, and stick to it! Keeping the body on a regular sleep schedule is important for maintaining normal balance between sleep hormone levels and preparing the body for a day’s work. A few weeks before school begins, start enforcing an appropriate bed time and wake time to allow your child’s body to adjust to the upcoming school year. Arrange schedules so that elementary and middle school aged children get about ten hours of sleep, and high schoolers at least eight hours. Limit weekend sleeping in. If you travel or visit family in the weeks leading up to school, make sure the sleep schedules stay enforced. As an extra tip, you can offer coupons for daytime rewards such as extra play time or electronics-use privilege in exchange for sticking to the sleep schedule.
-Adjust meal times. Children (as well as teens and adults) should avoid eating large meals before bed time and consequently jump-starting metabolism. An spike or sudden increase in blood sugar levels following a meal is likely to make falling asleep difficult, as the brain is now flooded with glucose and difficult to calm. Although not commonly consumed by younger children, prohibit any caffeine intake after mid-afternoon.
-Remove light-stimulating devices. The balance of normal sleep hormones is dependent on the cycle of sunlight throughout the day. Artificial light stimulation, especially from cell phones, mobile devices, computers, and televisions tricks the brain into staying awake by decreasing sleep inducing melatonin. Try encouraging your child to add non-electronic activities such as reading, coloring, or puzzles to their bed time routine as a more holistic approach to transitioning from awake to sleep.
-Create a dedicated sleep space. Despite the challenge of small spaces in New York City, removing as many ‘non-sleep’ activities from your child’s bedroom is essential to reducing potential distractions when bedtime approaches. Train your child to understand that going to bed means just that. Their sleep space should be dark (a dim night-light is ok to have) and slightly cool.
-Avoid sleep distractions. The best advice for older cell-phone carrying children is to demand they keep all cellphones and mobile devices out of their bedroom during sleep time. It is far too easy, especially for busy social teens, to pick up their phone to check the latest statuses or pictures from their friends. The temptation to stay awake and text or chat is far too easy to succumb to when their device is within easy reach. Keep household noises to a minimum and limit household visitors during sleep hours.
If these methods don’t seem to work for your child, consult with his or her pediatrician or a pediatric sleep specialist. There is new and emerging evidence on pediatric sleep disorders and behaviors that if caught and treated early can avoid school performance complications. Before trying any over the counter medications, talk with your child’s doctor as these drugs can have dangerous side effects if not used appropriately!
Oh, and these tips work on adults too!