Going back to school should not be just an excuse for kids to get new clothes and school supplies. Instead, say University of Alabama at Birmingham experts, it also should be a time to get them back to healthier sleep schedules.
Long summer days lend themselves to later nights and fewer hours of restorative slumber, something pediatricians say is especially necessary for kids to have to succeed upon their return to the classroom.
"From memory to judgment, attention span, emotional stability and even immunity, sleep deprivation negatively affects school-age children," explains Kristin Avis, M.D., UAB assistant professor of pediatrics and a sleep specialist.
If you think your child is different and does not need the required amount of sleep, think again. Of children under the age of 18, 60 percent polled by the National Sleep Foundation complained of being tired during the day, and 15 percent reported they fell asleep at school. To curb the feeling, doctors say, get kids to bed early, starting before the bell rings on the first day back.
"About a week ahead of school starting, begin to back up their bed-time and wake-up times. This incremental change may start off rough, but it will get easier and ensure they are not miserable on their first day at school," says Stephenie Wallace, M.D., UAB assistant professor of pediatrics.
The NSF has guidelines for how much sleep children of various ages require. Three to 5-year-olds need 11 to 13 hours per night, while 5 to 12 year-olds need 10 to 11 hours each night.
"As for adolescents, it's a common myth that they need less sleep, and can handle only seven or eight hours, but they actually need nine hours of sleep. That's typically the most sleep-deprived population in school," says Avis.
A lack of one good night's sleep can be made up for, Avis says, but going an entire school week without sufficient rest can be detrimental.