Mental Health Blog

Sleep Smart: Back-to-School Edition

Teen Girl Sleeping During Class

There’s good news and bad news about kids who stay up way past their bedtime during the carefree days of summer. The bad news is that they will need some help adjusting to get back to a school sleep schedule. The good news? Kids and adolescents are resilient and can adapt quickly according to REACH faculty, Dr Robert Kowatch, MD, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychiatry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a leading expert in pediatric sleep and sleep medicine.

Understanding Pediatric Sleep Needs
Healthcare professionals play a crucial role in helping families recognize the significance of sleep for overall well-being. Adequate sleep is essential for a child’s physical growth, cognitive development, and emotional regulation. Dr. Kowatch recommended the following hours of sleep by age:

  • Newborns: 14 to 17 hours/day
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
  • Pre-schoolers (3-5 years): 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
  • School-aged children (6-12 years): 9 to 12 hours (excluding naps)
  • Teens: 8 to 10 hours

Dr Kowatch explained that “During sleep, your brain flushes out toxins. Your memory is made on proteins. And during the night, there’s CFS, central spinal fluid, flushing throughout the night…so you feel refreshed the next day.”

Transitioning from Summer to School Schedules

Dr Kowatch emphasizes that it’s essential for caregivers to recognize the challenges that can arise when transitioning from summer to a more structured school routine. “Parents have got to anticipate there may be an adjustment period for the first week or two.”

Gradual adjustments to bedtime and wake-up times can be extremely effective. Starting a week or two before school starts, encourage families to move bedtime and wake-up times earlier by about 15 minutes each day. A gradual shift can help children’s internal clocks adapt smoothly and get their circadian rhythm back on track.

What to Share with Parents about Back-to-School Sleep

  1. Adjust gradually: Begin changing the child’s sleep routine at least a week before school starts.
  2. Wake consistently: Wake the child around the same time every day, within an hour of the regular wake time for school.
  3. Incremental changes: Shift bedtime and wake times 15 minutes earlier each day.
  4. Reinstate routines: Restore school-night bedtime rituals, like bath time and story time.
  5. Daytime activities: Engage in relaxing activities between dinner and bedtime.
  6. Limit electronics and light: Turn off devices and reduce light/screen exposure two hours before sleep.
  7. Avoid caffeine: Children and adolescents should limit caffeine intake, especially after noon.

As the back-to-school season approaches, the importance of prioritizing sleep health for children cannot be understated. Pediatricians are uniquely positioned to provide guidance and support to families during this transition, for what will hopefully be a restful start to the school year!

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