12 Ways to Reset Your Children's Clock
After a full summer of abiding by their own slumber-wake rhythms, youngsters are suddenly yanked from bed to begin sleep-walking through the first weeks of school. There must be a better way.
Parents can help their children get off to a good start this year by getting them back on a “school night” sleep schedule before classes start, advise sleep experts from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
Studies show that students who get restful nights of sleep receive better grades than those who stay up late or spend their evenings counting sheep, says chronobiologist Michael Smolensky, PhD, a visiting professor at UTHealth School of Nursing and co-author of the book, “The Body Clock Guide to Better Health.” Moreover, studies have shown that children and adolescents who are sleep deprived are more likely to exhibit daytime fatigue and sleepiness, problems concentrating and altered mood states. Nine hours and 15 minutes of sleep is recommended for adolescents and 10 hours for younger children.
A sleep study involving more than 3,100 students at four Massachusetts public high schools produced eye-opening results. “The top students, the ones earning mainly A’s and B’s, went to bed earlier on both weeknights and weekends than those who received C’s, D’s and F’s. The high achievers slept about 25 minutes longer on school nights than did the low achievers,” Smolensky notes.
Early morning classes can be particularly hard on teens because they have a natural tendency to sleep late, says Robert Roberts, PhD, professor of Behavioral Sciences at the UTHealth School of Public Health and lead author of a study on the incidence of chronic insomnia among adolescents. “Their circadian rhythms change at puberty and they want to go to sleep later and to wake up later,” Roberts says.
Richard Castriotta, MD, division director of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the UTHealth Medical School and medical director of the Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center Sleep Disorders Center, says school start times often are based on factors—bus schedules, parent work schedules and day care—unrelated to student sleep schedules. “I would advocate for later start times for school. There are children and adolescents in first period class who otherwise would be at home in deep sleep,” Castriotta says.
During summer months, many students revert to their natural biorhythms, often expressing an intrinsic delayed sleep phase, Castriotta says. These children and especially adolescents may have a natural tendency to go to sleep late and get up later than would be possible during the school year.
“A way around it would be to keep the kids on a school schedule at least a few weeks before school starts and get them up at 6 am if that is required to get to school on time during the rest of the year,” Castriotta says. The reaction to early rising at the start of the school year is similar to what happens to many people on Monday mornings after late-night weekends or to travelers with jet lag.
12 eye openers to start now
Parents, make life easier on yourselves and your children. Use these 12 tips to get your young scholars back on sleep schedules for the new school year.
- Start early – Don’t wait until school starts to modify your child’s sleep routine. It’s a good idea to re-establish bedtimes well before the first bell rings.
- Make incremental changes – Inch back wake-up times by 15 minutes or so until you reach the ideal time for your child’s particular school district. You can’t force children to sleep, but you can enforce wake-up times and adjust the bedtime accordingly.
- Discourage daytime naps – It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep with three-hour naps. Try to limit naps to 20 minutes or so.
- Encourage early exercise – Exercise is as essential as sleep. It also helps children burn off steam during the day which can help them sleep. But, at night, it can rev children up, so discourage exercise in the evening.
- Try to stick to a regular family breakfast and dinner time – Meals help anchor your child’s day. Be sure children have a proper and healthy breakfast because children, especially adolescents, who go to sleep too late, are unable to wake up early enough to eat breakfast. This further compromises school performance in morning classes.
- Limit bedtime television viewing – One study found that 25 percent of nearly 500 children from kindergarten through fourth grade in three middle-class suburban schools had a TV set in their bedrooms. Television in the bedroom is discouraged for both adults and children who have sleep problems, because it fosters the concept of the bedroom for entertainment rather than sleeping.
- Limit computer and video game time just before bed – It’s hard enough for an adult to stop checking email, texting or posting online. For older children and adolescents who have grown up with emerging technology, computers, video games and smart phones can be powerful stimuli to the brain. Take a page from flight safety rules, “The captain has asked that all electronic devices be placed in the ‘off’ position as we prepare for lift-off.” In the case of sleep preparation, discourage use of computers and video games well before bedtime.
- Create a restful environment – Your child’s room should be dark, quiet and comfortable. Studies have shown that the darker the room, the better quality of sleep. If your child needs a night light, keep it soft and place it out of direct line of sight.
- Snack if hungry – Avoid eating a large meal before bedtime. However, a light and healthy snack is OK.
- Talk about sleep issues – The inability to sleep could be a sign of a bigger issue such as problems with bullies or stress over a new school and new classmates or even a sleep disorder.
- Be a good role model – Parents should go to sleep and get up at a reasonable time, too.
- Avoid excessive caffeine consumption – Heavily caffeinated beverages are now more popular than ever, and their consumption can be the equivalent of amphetamine usage with consequent insomnia. Remember that tea (both green and black varieties) contains caffeine.
These tips can help your child succeed both in and out of the classroom.