IT’S BACK-TO-SCHOOL TIME, a time when parents do everything they can to make sure their children get a great start to the new school year. They buy them backpacks and school supplies, make sure their shoes still fit and pick out a new lunchbox for the healthy lunches they will pack for them. But how many think about getting their kids into good sleep habits?
During the summer when the days are longer, kids tend to stay up later. When they’re off at camp, parents can’t supervise their bedtimes. And summer slumber parties tend to turn into all-night giggle sessions. So when school starts up again, one of the most important things parents can do to help children succeed is to make sure they get back into good sleep habits.
Sleep and learning
Scientists have long known that adequate sleep is important for forming different types of memories. For example, students who get proper rest perform better on tests than those who stay up all night studying.
According to the Associated Press, scientists at the University of Lubeck in northern Germany also found that sleep is important for learning motor skills, which uses a different part of the brain— and often requires more practice—than memorizing facts.
The scientists taught healthy, young students different finger-tapping sequences, and then either let the students sleep or kept them awake for eight hours. When they were re-tested, the rested students performed the tapping sequence 35% faster and made 30% fewer errors than the sleepy students.
It wasn’t that the sleepy students were too tired to physically perform: The difference persisted a day later after both groups had gotten a full night’s sleep.
“This suggests that sleep is important for the brain to properly store the memories of the training only within a critical time period,” the AP reports.
How much sleep is enough?
School-age children need nine to 11 hours of sleep each night. An Italian study showed that children who slept fewer than 10 hours a day had an 86% increase in injury risk. Lack of sleep also has been mistaken as symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder because it’s more difficult to concentrate without proper sleep. And sleep deficiency is associated with obesity, because when kids are tired, they don’t exercise enough and tend to get hungry late at night so they eat more than they need.
Establishing a sleep schedule
Here are some tips for getting children back on a school-sleep schedule:
1. Don’t get too far off track in the first place. It’s OK to adjust for later nights when there is a lot of activity, but sleeping until noon should never happen.
2. Make sure children’s beds are the right size. Many kids have growth spurts over the summer, so the start of school is a good time to evaluate your children’s mattresses. They may be ready for bigger beds, especially teens. Also, check the condition of their mattresses. Oftentimes kids inherit hand-me-downs. If their beds are older than five to seven years, they probably need to be replaced.
3. Set up a nighttime routine. Bath, pajamas and a bedtime story help prepare the mind and body for sleep. Have clothes laid out to make the morning easier— calm, quiet, relaxed. For older kids and teens, make it a rule to turn off all technology an hour before bedtime.
4. Make a morning routine. Set an alarm and open the curtains to let in light. Have breakfast on the table and backpacks ready to go—energetic and organized. A few days before school starts do some dry runs.
5. Be consistent every day of the week. During the school year, keep the same schedule on weekends whenever possible, otherwise there will be Monday mornings when the kids don’t want to drag themselves out of bed.
This article was originally published by Lissa Coffey for Sleepy Savvy Magazine (Sept 2015). You can view the original post, here.