Summer slows us down – days get long and nights stay warm. And if you have kids, bedtimes often get later and later. Who can blame you when it doesn’t get dark until 9:30!
But school starts in a few weeks, throwing us back into busy schedules and early mornings. It can be a frustrating transition for parents and kids both, especially when you want to wring every last drop out of summer break. Is there any way to ease the pain? We asked OhioHealth family medicine physician Matt Kunar, DO, for some tips on getting kids back on a school-time sleep schedule.
1. Go for quantity.
“Younger kids should be getting about 10 hours of sleep, and teens should shoot for eight to nine hours,” says Kunar. “Not getting enough sleep can affect concentration, and even cause you to eat too many calories to compensate for feeling tired.”
2. But don’t forget quality.
“Eliminate distractions in their rooms,” says Kunar. “No screens. Get phones, tablets and TVs out of the rooms.” Bedrooms should be dark, too. Even low light through closed eyelids can keep your brain more active than it should be at nighttime. Kunar also recommends turning down the thermostat, opening a window on cool nights, or using a fan to keep the room comfortable. “Being too hot in bed can make you toss and turn, and prevent you from getting a good night’s rest.”
3. Curb late-night snacking.
“If your kids are hungry right before bed, it could be a signal that they’ve stayed up too late after dinner,” says Kunar. On the flip side, eating food right before bed can keep them from getting sleepy, and lying flat in bed right after eating certain foods can give them symptoms of indigestion and make them uncomfortable. Try to eat at least two hours before bed, but not much more than that.
4. Start early and ease in.
“I suggest slowly introducing earlier bedtimes about a week before school starts, 15 minutes at a time,” says Kunar. “But it’s just as important to wake kids up earlier too. If they start getting up earlier, they’ll be tired at the right time of night.”
5. Keep a bedtime routine.
“Start preparing for bed about 30 minutes beforehand with a regular routine,” says Kunar. “Have kids wash their face and brush their teeth, and read a book to them. Keeping a set routine gets their minds ready for sleep.”
6. Make good sleep a priority.
“Don’t make sleep an afterthought,” says Kunar. When kids don’t have quality sleep, it can manifest itself in attention deficits, reduced physical performance and behavioral abnormalities. “Make getting good sleep as much of a priority as your child’s waking activities. Good sleep makes happy kids, and happy kids make happy parents.”