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Published on August 27, 2018

Gundersen expert offers back to school sleep tips

Colleen McCurry

Dr. Colleen McCurry, GBHAC Family Medicine

Now that the new school year is here and you’ve finished buying last minute school supplies and filling the backpacks, another task that you need to complete is getting the kids back on a regular bedtime routine.

"Many parents allow their children to stay up later in the summer and sleep in later in the mornings," comments family medicine physician Colleen McCurry, MD, Gundersen Boscobel. "While it is fine to be more relaxed with their sleep schedule in the summer, parents need to get kids back into a regular and earlier routine before the new school year begins."

Dr. McCurry recommends that an adequate amount of sleep for 3-5 years old is 11-13 hours per night, 5-12 years old should get 10-11 hours a night and kids ages 13-18 need 9-10 hours per night. "School is hard enough without feeling sleepy," she explains. "In the long-term, children with chronic sleep deprivation are more likely to have difficulties learning, paying attention, and are even more likely to be overweight or to exhibit symptoms of attention deficit disorder."

Below are tips from the National Sleep Foundation that Dr. McCurry says can help get kids back into their school sleep schedule:

  • In the days leading up to the start of school, work with your child to return to a school appropriate sleep schedule. Every night, set an incrementally earlier bedtime, and every morning, an incrementally earlier wake-up time. Make sure that when school starts, they'll wake up with the amount of sleep they need for their age-group.
  • Maintain sleep schedule. Once your child's sleep schedule is established, stick with it! Don't use the weekend to "catch up on sleep."
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Before bedtime, start a "quiet time" to allow your child to unwind. The routine should include relaxing activities, such as a bath and a bed-time story (for young children) or a reading time (for older children).
  • Limit television, video games and other electronic distractions at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Avoid big meals close to bedtime. A heavy meal may prevent your child from falling asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine. Sodas and other caffeinated drinks should be limited after noon, and especially at night. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any caffeine six hours before bedtime, as the caffeine can interrupt your child's natural sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Maintain a peaceful bedroom environment. Dark room, comfortable bed, and a room temperature that is neither too hot nor too cold. Electronic distractions like television, computers, or video games should be removed from your child's room and set up in a different location.
  • Be a role model. Set a good example for your child. Establish your own regular sleep cycle and maintain a home that promotes healthy sleep.

"The sooner your child readjusts to a school-time sleep-schedule, the better he or she will feel during those early morning classes. Feeling fully rested and excited for the day, your child (and you) will have the best year yet," explains Dr. McCurry.

For more information talk with your primary care provider or go to gundersenhealth.org/sleep.

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