The start of another school year is just around the corner. Along with the school supplies, new clothes and new friends will come a new routine and sleep schedule. For many children, the sudden shift to an earlier bedtime and wake-up call can pose a big challenge. Let’s explore some of the common sleep questions that arise when it’s time to head back to school.
How Can I Adjust My Child’s Back-to-School Sleep Schedule?
Every human has an internal clock that makes us feel sleepy or awake at different times of the day. This is known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm allows our bodies to sleep and wake in a 24-hour routine. Even if you were stuck in a room with no way of knowing what time it was, your body would still wake and sleep in a roughly 24-hour cycle.
Move Bedtime 10 to 15 Minutes Earlier Each Day
Children that were accustomed to falling asleep later at night during the summer will have to slowly adjust their body clocks in order to move bedtime earlier during the school year. What is the best way to adjust the body clock? Along with good sleep hygiene and avoiding bright light prior to bed, parents should start moving bedtime earlier by 10 to 15 minutes each night until reaching the goal bedtime. For children that go to bed at midnight over the summer, it would take about two or three weeks to move the bedtime to 9 p.m. The key is to start early.
Avoiding Light During Bedtime – Like TVs or Smartphones
And just as important as avoiding light during bedtime, it’s important to get plenty of light in the morning to keep your child on schedule. Finally, your child’s sleep environment should be optimized for his or her sleep schedule. Here are some tips for transforming a bedroom into the ideal place for getting quality sleep. Many things affect the body clock, but light (or lack thereof) is the main cue to either go to sleep or wake up. When we look at bright lights at night, our body clock is tricked into thinking it is daytime, which decreases a natural sleep hormone called melatonin and makes it harder to fall asleep. Avoiding bright lights from TVs, smartphones and laptops at least one hour before bed is important to falling asleep on time and getting a great night’s sleep.
This is particularly true for adolescents. For some reason, their body clocks tend to be more delayed than the rest of us, so they naturally prefer a later bedtime and wake time. Combine this with too much light at night, and you create the perfect mix for a true night owl. Because of the natural tendency for teenagers to sleep late and wake late, many high schools have implemented later start times. Sleep research has found this helps teenagers get more sleep and improves school performance.
What happens when a child doesn’t get enough sleep?
When adults don’t sleep enough, they often feel sleepy the next day. Although feeling sleepy is possible for children, it is more common for children to be hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive when they don’t get a full night’s rest. Sleep is also vital for memory retention and cognitive performance, so sleep deprivation can lead to school difficulties and behavioral problems.
Sleep and school can sometimes feel like competing forces, but they don’t have to be. This summer, start thinking about sleep well before school starts. Children that sleep better learn better. So while you are busy shopping for pencils, book bags and notebooks, remember that sleep might just be the most important school supply.
About The Author
Dr. Sujay Kansagra Sujay Kansagra, MD is an associate professor at Duke University Medical Center and is Mattress Firm's Sleep Health Expert. He is also the Program Director of the Pediatric Neurology Residency Program and Director of the Duke Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program. Dr. Kansagra is double board certified in both Child Neurology and Sleep Medicine. He has published over 30 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals and is the author of numerous book chapters and books on the topic of sleep, including My Child Won’t Sleep. He’s been featured on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Bustle, SheKnows, Thrillist, CNN, and Reader’s Digest, among others and can be found regularly discussing sleep, medicine and education with his 129K+ Twitter followers via his accounts, @medschooladvice and @PedsSleepDoc. Best Night’s Sleep: Not just a sleep expert, but also an expert sleeper, Dr. Kansagra can sleep almost anywhere, thanks to years of sleep deprivation during medical school and residency call nights. But his best sleep is at home with his family, on a mattress he purchased at Mattress Firm long before he joined our team. He recently upgraded it with an adjustable base.