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Sleep is essential for your child’s growth and development. When school-aged kids are rested, they are more likely to stay focused, store memories, think sequentially, and maintain positive social relationships, all of which are important for success at school. But, many kids aren’t getting enough sleep.
If you have a school-aged kid who isn’t sleeping enough, they may struggle to concentrate and complete tasks in the classroom. And, children with sleep problems may exhibit behavioral issues ranging from poor decision-making and impulsivity to hyperactivity and aggression. If you’ve ever had a toddler who skipped a nap, this isn’t hard to imagine. While these behaviors look different in sleep-deprived kids and adolescents, they can be just as frustrating to resolve.
Poor sleep can also affect kids’ physical health. Children and teenagers who aren't sleeping well may be more susceptible to mental health struggles or getting sick and missing school, which means they may miss valuable learning time. If your child is regularly absent from school because they’re sick or tired, they can quickly fall behind academically.
The best way you can help your kids get enough sleep for school is by establishing healthy and consistent sleep routines that lead to quality sleep, night after night.
How much sleep do kids need?
Sleep needs vary by age and individual. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the following sleep guidelines for kids and teenagers:
- Preschoolers (3 to 5 years old): 10 to 13 hours, with naps
- Elementary school-aged (6 to 12 years old): 9 to 12 hours
- Middle and high school-aged (13 to 18 years old): 8 to 10 hours
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed sleep data for school-aged kids surveyed by the national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. Nearly 60 percent of students ages 6 to12 reported fewer than 9 hours of nightly sleep and about 70 percent of high school students reported sleeping less than 8 hours, showing that many kids aren’t getting the sleep they need.
Up to 70% of teens don’t get enough #sleep. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, pediatrician Dr. Dahlia Halim shares how to create a #BedtimeRoutine that can improve the amount and quality of their sleep: https://bit.ly/3DuNW0W.Click to Tweet
Maintaining a consistent schedule and predictable bedtime routine can help your school-aged child get enough sleep.
One of the best ways to improve your child’s sleep hygiene is by setting a bedtime routine. Routines will look different depending on the age of your child but no matter how old your kid is, there should be a predictable pattern of steps before bedtime each night. You can help your student get the sleep they need by establishing healthy sleep habits that work best for your family.
Establish a firm bedtime.
Consistency is essential when it comes to helping your child get enough sleep. Whether they’re in elementary, middle, or high school, they should have an established bedtime and time to wake up that remains the same even on the weekend or holidays. Sticking to a predictable bedtime and wake time even on the weekends will prevent a disrupted sleep schedule that could affect how much sleep they get during the week.
Provide opportunities to unwind.
A good bedtime routine doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be in a predictable order and repeated nightly. Consider starting the bedtime routine about an hour before bed with a calming activity that helps your child wind down. A puzzle, board game, or good book can help them to relax. While physical activity earlier in the day may help them to sleep better at night, try to avoid high physical activity right before bed as that can have the opposite effect. If they need to move their body, low-intensity exercise, like stretching or yoga, may be beneficial before bed.
For elementary-aged children, a healthy sleep routine may include a bath and story. For older children or teenagers, journaling or meditation may help them calm down before bed, helping them to process the day’s activities and clear their mind. A variety of free meditation apps, like Headspace or Calm, offer guided imaging or breathing which can prepare your child for sleep. Try relying on the audio prompts while setting the phone or tablet somewhere the screen isn’t visible to minimize stimulation or distraction.
Avoid screen time and caffeine before bed.
It can be harder for kids and teenagers to fall asleep at night if they’ve stayed up watching TV, texting, or playing video games because screens stimulate the brain. Turning off electronics at least one hour before bedtime will minimize the chances of disrupted sleep. And, keeping these devices out of the bedroom will reduce the chance for distraction in the middle of the night.
Similarly, caffeine is a stimulant that can prevent kids from falling and staying asleep. In addition to coffee, caffeine can be found in chocolate, soda, iced teas, and other beverages. Ideally, encourage your child not to consume caffeine after noon.
Create a comfortable sleeping environment.
The ideal sleep environment can help your school-aged child or teen fall asleep more quickly—and get good quality sleep. Here are a few ways you can create an environment that encourages sleep:
- Reserve the bed for sleeping only by keeping the bed off-limits for screen time, play, or homework.
- Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
- Ensure the bedroom is dark by using room-darkening curtains or blinds. Remove anything with a glowing light, like alarm clocks, game consoles, or phone notifications.
Consistency is key.
Once you’ve established a bedtime ritual, stick to it every night. When bedtime routines are predictable, kids are more likely to cooperate because they know what’s coming next. Healthy sleep routines can encourage them to fall asleep earlier and stay asleep longer. If you have more than one kid, you may need to modify the bedtime routine for each kid.
A good night of sleep ensures the proper brain function necessary for concentrating in the classroom, regulating emotions, and sustaining energy for the day. When your child is well-rested, they will have an easier (and more enjoyable) time learning. As a bonus, if your school-aged kid is getting enough sleep, you might sleep better, too.