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Getting the right amount of Zzz’s

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Longer days and shorter nights are great for summer vacation but they can wreak havoc on students during those first few weeks back to school. 

During the summer months bedtime routines disappear to make room for late night movies, sleepovers and long, lazy mornings of sleeping in. But failing to get a sufficient amount of sleep all summer long can make it difficult to adjust to early morning alarms.

Research shows that skipping sleep can be harmful. It can limit a student’s ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems – all necessary skills for a positive and productive school year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued its endorsement supporting the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) guidelines for sleep duration for children from infants to teens. To improve attention, behavior, mental and physical health and more, the AASM recommends 10 to 13 hours of sleep per 24 hours for preschoolers, age 3 to 5 years; 9 to 12 hours of sleep per 24 hours for elementary and middle school students, age 6 to 12 years; and  8 to 10 hours of sleep per 24 hours for high school students, age 13 to 18 years. 

Children and youth often are faced with increasing demands on their time – from homework, sports and other extracurricular and social activities – and sleep time unintentionally can be cut short. The irony is that by failing to make sleep a priority children may not perform as well or have as good a chance of success with any of their other activities, no matter how much waking time they spend doing them. 

Important body functions and brain activity occur during sleep. Sleep deprivation is associated with increases in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression, especially for teens who may experience higher risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Sleepiness can make it hard to get along with family and friends, and can hurt scores on exams, the court or the field. Additionally, a brain in search of sleep will get it, even when it is least expected, such as falling asleep at the wheel or during an important class.

Back to school sleep tips

Parents looking for help in getting their children adjusted to the back to school sleep routine may wish to consider the following tips from the National Sleep Foundation:

1. Gradually introduce a school appropriate sleep schedule about two weeks before school starts. Every night set an incrementally earlier bedtime and wake-up time so by the first day of school the routine is in place.

2. Maintain the sleep schedule. Once the routine is established don’t vary from it by using the weekends to catch up on sleep.

3. Make bedtime calm and relaxing. Encourage quiet time shortly before going to bed, either by reading aloud to young children or having a reading time for older children, so the body and mind has time to unwind.

4. Limit electronic distractions. Cellphones, TVs and computers can stimulate the brain and make sleep difficult. 

5. Avoid large meals, caffeine and exercise within a few hours of bedtime. Food and exercise can interrupt normal sleep patterns making it difficult to fall asleep. Consuming caffeine close to bedtime can hurt sleep, so avoid coffee, tea, soda and chocolate late in the day so it is easy to get to sleep at night. 

6. Create a peaceful sleep environment. Make the bedroom a sleep haven. Keep it cool, quiet and dark to signal the body it is time to rest.

7. Be a role model. Parents should establish their own regular sleep cycles and set a good example. 

The sooner a child readjusts to a school time sleep schedule the sooner he or she will feel better in the classroom. The school year is much more fun and productive when kids face each day fully rested and ready to learn.

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