Health

Back to school sleep tips for parents

Like preparing to play a new musical instrument, we need to train our bodies to relax before bed

Sleeping child

Among five- to 13-year-olds, 79 per cent get the recommended nine to 11 hours of sleep per night, Participaction reports. (Godong/UIG/Getty)

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As parents shift their focus from packing towels and swimsuits for summer camp to the anticipation (or dread) of hitting the books, sleep schedules take on a renewed importance, pediatricians say.

In summer, children and teens tend to go to bed later and sleep in. Their body clocks need to adjust to the earlier wake-up times for school. Now is a good time to start.

Like preparing to play a new musical instrument or sport, we need to train our bodies to relax before bed, said Dr. Jana Davidson, psychiatrist in chief at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver.

Suggestions include:

  • Select a bedtime that is age appropriate and stick to it seven days a week.
  • Limit soda and other sources of caffeine such as coffee, tea and chocolate in the afternoons or evenings because it leads to shallow sleep or frequent awakenings.
  • Get enough exercise during the day.
  • Limit screen time for at least an hour before bed.
  • Do relaxing activities such as taking a bath or shower, read or cuddle with the youngest ones before bed to settle down.
  • Keep the bedroom cool, quiet and comfortable. Children who stare at a clock should have it turned away from them.
  • Set a good example for your child by establishing your own regular sleep cycle.

The brain recharges when we sleep. When people of all ages don't get enough sleep, it's hard to concentrate and it's harder to manage day to day stresses, said Davidson, who is also a psychiatry professor at the University of British Columbia.

Lack of sufficient sleep is linked to health implications ranging from hyperactivity, learning and memory problems as well as harmful hormonal changes associated with increased risks of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, said Dr. Shelly Weiss, a neurologist at SickKids in Toronto who specializes in pediatric sleep disorders.

Calm start to day 

"One of the things that we observe is that the more confident a parent feels in their preparation of knowing what's going to happen when their child starts school, the more calming they are for their child," Davidson said. 

Among five- to 13-year-olds, 79 per cent get the recommended nine to 11 hours of sleep per night. For teens, 68 per cent get the suggested eight to 10 hours per night, Participaction reports

If a child is anxious and the parent is as well, the child tends to become more anxious.

"Part of this preparation and moving back into a school routine early is as much a preparation for the family as it is for the child because it provides everybody with a road map," Davidson added. "That's a very calming way to come into each day."

Pediatricians also encourage parents to get children excited about school and the fun activities they'll do. For young kids, it could include going to school beforehand to enjoy the playground before the bell rings.

Among teens, many sacrifice sleep at a time when growth accelerates through puberty and adolescence.

One of the contributors to the teens' sleep debt is the tendency to go to bed at one time Sunday through Thursday and then stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights. Davidson recognizes it's hard to convince adolescents to go to bed at the same time every day, but it's a good strategy to keep the body's internal clock consistent.

Likewise, wrestling smartphones from kids and teens before bed is also recommended. Davidson suggests having a talk with your teen about their academic and extracurricular goals, to hit home on why turning on the "do not disturb" feature on devices is so important to sleep undisturbed by pings.

Children and young people have responsibilities at school, friendships to develop and maintain, get along with their family and extracurricular activities to foster their self-esteem and self-efficacy, Davidson said. If a child seems to be struggling in any of those areas and it persists then it could be a signal to seek professional help through a family doctor or child mental health team.

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