Back-to-school sleep tips for kids

Occupational therapist Jennifer Garden offers tips to reset kids' sleep schedules heading into a new school year.

Occupational therapist offers tips to reset kids' sleep schedules

Sleep consultant Jennifer Garden says school age kids typically need 10-11 hours of sleep a night, while teenagers require at least nine. (Getty Images/RooM RF)

Over the summer months, with sunlight lasting longer into the evening, a lot of people stay up later than usual. When summer starts to wind down, readjusting to healthier sleep patterns is important — particularly for young people heading back to school.

Jennifer Garden is a registered occupational therapist with Sleep Dreams, a sleep consultant service in Vancouver. She says getting by on a little less sleep over the summer is common.

"We're off schedule. Everyone's having a great time, you're out for dinner parties, kids are playing outside, it's lovely out so everything gets shifted back a little bit," she said.

Although we might be going to bed later when there are more daylight hours, our body's need for sleep doesn't change. Garden said that as a society we're putting less value on sleep than ever.

"Ever since the day Thomas Edison invented electricity, we've been up later and we've been cheating ourselves on sleep," she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently reported high school seniors were averaging less than seven hours of sleep a night. (iStock)

"And especially for children who are in school and learning, that's a critical element. They need to be well rested so they learn and attend well."

For parents who've been putting their kids to bed a little later over the holidays and seen them continue to come flying out of bed at the usual time in the morning, Garden says it's a compounding problem. 

"Over time, as a society, we've been putting our kids later and later to bed. But they're not getting up later. So they're missing sleep, they're at a sleep debt."

On a positive note, if the prospect of dragging tired kids out of bed for school seems a bit daunting, Garden said there's still time to shift their sleep schedule.

Garden recommends teenagers aim for more than nine hours of sleep a night, while younger kids should be getting 10 or 11 hours. For the little ones, she suggested using 7:30 or 8 p.m. as a target bedtime. 

But she added parents should start the transition slowly, and not just at lights-out.

"I would start during the day," she said. "Everyone looks at the nighttime piece, but we need to look at the daytime piece. If your kids are getting lots of screen time and not outside enough, get them outside. Get them physically active, because we know that increases sleep drive."

Garden said parents can start by moving bedtime up a half hour each day, but added that they should make sure kids are getting out of bed a bit earlier too. She suggested waking them at the target time they'll be getting up on a school day, and said that earlier start will move mealtimes up and the rest of the day's schedule should naturally follow. 


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