Children of all ages, including teenagers, need adequate sleep to be healthy and active. Quality sleep is vital for everything from physical growth and development to the ability to concentrate and perform well at school.
Lack of sleep can cause a variety of health issues, including a higher risk of obesity, diabetes and mental health problems.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep times:
- Preschoolers (ages 3-5): 10-13 hours (including naps)
- School-age children (ages 6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (ages 14-17): 8-10 hours
Tips for a School-Friendly Sleep Routine
Use these tips to get your children’s sleep schedules back on track and be ready to tackle the first day of school well-rested and refreshed.
Tip 1: Plan ahead
Don’t wait until the day before school starts to re-establish a school sleep routine. It’s important to start setting the pace a couple of weeks before school begins. Start gradually.
Back bedtime up by 15 minutes and wake your children 15 minutes earlier. For example, if your child has been going to sleep at 10:30 p.m. and waking at 9 a.m. then send them to bed at 10:15 p.m. and wake them at 8:45 a.m. Over a couple of weeks, you’ll have helped your child adjust to a more school-appropriate sleeping schedule.
Tip 2: Make children part of the plan
If children understand the importance of getting good sleep then they’re more willing to buy into an earlier bedtime. Share with them that sleep is vital to good health and will help them not only succeed in school but also give them more energy to play with their friends and participate in extracurricular activities.
For older children who play sports, remind them that their bodies need sleep to grow and repair muscles, release growth hormones and retain information learned during team practices.
Tip 3: Be consistent
Stick to consistent bedtime and waking schedules over weekends and on school breaks. Otherwise, your children will feel “jet-lagged” when it’s time to return to school.
Tip 4: Establish a routine
Children of all ages thrive on routine, especially when it comes to bedtime. A warm bath or shower helps set the tone for bed. The warm water lowers the body’s core temperature, signaling the brain that it’s time for sleep. Next, children can brush and floss their teeth, followed by a book or story. Older children may find reading a book, journaling or listening to soft music helps prepare their bodies for sleep.
Tip 5: Limit screen time before bed
Some evidence suggests that hours of light from cell phones, tablets and laptops tricks our bodies into thinking it’s still light outside. This makes it harder to fall asleep as does the stimulation from electronic social interaction. Turn off electronics an hour before bed so your body is ready to fall asleep.
Tip 6: Ease into the year
Participating in multiple clubs, sports or activities can create anxiety for children. If possible, gradually add out-of-school activities. This will help children adjust to the new routine without causing anxiety or time commitments that interfere with sleep.
Tip 7: Create the right environment
A cool, dark room is the best environment for sleeping. Use blackout curtains, white-noise machines or fans to create a soothing environment. Lavender spray on a pillow or from a diffuser also signals the body that it’s time to sleep. Additionally, don’t do homework in bed. The brain needs a clear signal that the bed is the place for sleeping—not worrying about tomorrow’s math test.
Tip 8: Avoid naps
It’s understandable that some children need a nap after school. But if it’s hard to fall asleep at bedtime then eliminate even short afternoon snoozes.
Tip 9: Cut out caffeine
The half-life of caffeine can be six hours or longer. If your teenager has a latte at 3 p.m., half the caffeine from that drink is still in their body at 9 p.m. That makes sleeping next to impossible. That, coupled with a natural later circadian sleep shift that teens experience at puberty, makes sleep initiation very difficult.
Tip 10: Get some sunlight
Light from the sun tells the body that it’s time to wake up. Without that signal, it can be difficult to get going in the morning. Opening the curtains, eating breakfast on a patio or especially taking a quick walk in natural light may help children get moving.
Learn more about sleep medicine services offered at Catholic Health. Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.