Getting enough sleep is important for all of us, and school-aged kids are no exception. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule helps your child perform better in school and boosts their immune system. But sticking to a schedule and getting enough sleep can be difficult. Let’s take a look at how much sleep is ideal, and how to achieve that goal.
Sleep Guidelines for School-Aged Kids
Sleep needs vary from child to child, but elementary school children need about nine to 12 hours of sleep every night. Once your kids start school, or switch from half days to full days, they may need more sleep than before, and be ready for an earlier bedtime. Sleep deprivation can contribute to health problems and difficult behaviors, including hypertension, difficulty concentrating, irritability, headaches, obesity, mood swings and depression. Decide on a wake-up time that allows for enough time to get dressed, eat a healthy breakfast and be ready to go without rushing, then count backwards from your ideal wake-up time to determine the appropriate bedtime. Enforce a bedtime routine that allows your child at least 10 hours of sleep every night.
Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep
- Getting enough sleep helps kids in a number of ways, including the following:
- They are better able to absorb and retain the information learned in school.
- They are more likely to be energetic and healthy.
- They are more likely to have a positive attitude toward life.
- They have a healthier immune system.
- They have improved mental health.
- They are more likely to get better grades in school.
Challenges to a Getting Enough Sleep
School-aged children face increasing demands from homework, school, sports, social activities and other extracurricular activities. Scheduled evening activities can interfere with bedtime routines and make it difficult to wind down and fall asleep. Children at this age are becoming more interested in computers, television, the internet, media and caffeine products, which can make it difficult to fall asleep or lead to sleep disruptions. Television close to bedtime is associated with difficulty falling asleep, bedtime resistance, sleeping fewer hours and anxiety around sleep. Bedtime fears and nightmares are common at this age; talking to your child about their fears, providing reassurance and discussing ways to cope can help.
Getting into a Sleep Routine
If your child’s summer sleeping routine is different from the routine they need to be on during the school year, then start adjusting before school begins again. Figure out what their sleep schedule needs to be for the school year, and start adjusting a couple weeks before the first day of school. Put your child to bed 15 minutes earlier each night, then wake them up 15 minutes earlier in the morning. Continue to adjust the schedule gradually until you have achieved the desired schedule.
Maintaining a Sleep Routine
Help your kids develop healthy sleeping habits from the start with these tips and tricks:
- Make getting enough sleep a priority for the whole family. Help your child understand the importance of proper sleep and the way sleep affects overall health. Set a good example by prioritizing sleep for yourself as well as your children.
- Stick to a regular daily routine. Having a consistent routine throughout the day, including mealtime, playtime and bedtime, helps your child feel comfortable and secure.
- Be physically active during the day. Make sure your kids are getting adequate amounts of physical activity during the day, but avoid strenuous exercise and activity after dinner.
- Limit screen time. Keep televisions, computers, tablets and other electronic devices out of your child’s bedroom. Turn off all screens at least one hour before bedtime.
- Create a sleep environment. Keep your child’s bedroom cool, dark and quiet at night; dim the lights in the evening to prepare for bedtime.
- Minimize the number of stuffed animals and toys on your child’s bed; one or two items are okay, like a teddy bear or blanket, but too many makes it feel like a place to play rather than sleep.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Stick with your child’s sleep schedule, even on the weekends. A consistent bedtime helps keep your child’s internal clock on track, making it easier to fall asleep.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Help your child relax before bed by developing a bedtime routine that lasts about 30 to 45 minutes, providing them a quiet time to wind down. This can include brushing teeth, a bath, a bedtime story, quiet music or quiet reading time. Choose a routine that you can maintain even when you are away from home to help your child sleep well no matter where you are.
- Limit caffeine. Soda and caffeinated drinks can disturb sleep, and should be avoided in the six hours before bedtime.
- Avoid large meals close to bedtime. A small snack is okay, but eating a lot before bed can make it difficult for your child to fall asleep.
- Give your child the opportunity to unload worries. Unspoken anxieties can make it difficult to fall asleep, so give your child a chance to share concerns. Take a few minutes before bed to ask them about the best and worst moments in their day.
Helping your child get enough sleep can be difficult at times, but it is important to help them feel and function at their best. If you are maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, but your child still seems to be unable to get enough sleep, then a chronic sleep problem may be the cause. Talk to a pediatrician at SLMA about your child’s sleep habits and any problems they may be having. Most sleep problems can be easily treated, and our pediatricians can also provide additional suggestions for improving your child’s sleeping habits.