Getting back on a good sleep cycle for the new school year

Photo: Shutterstock/Ekaterina Vidyasova
Back to school sleep schedule
Getting sleep cycles back on track
Tips for adjusting sleep schedules

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — By the end of July, school buses will be rolling around parts of central Indiana as students and staff return from summer vacation.

One of the biggest challenges for your child can be getting enough sleep, especially after a summer with no alarm clock.

Here are some simple steps to take now regardless of when your child goes back to ensure sleep success.

Gradually change bedtime

Getting kids to go to bed early during the summer is a struggle. The same thing can be said for a dramatic change in sleep schedules.

Let's say your child doesn't go to bed in the summertime until 10:30 at night, but you know that during the school year that should be more like 8 p.m.

Jumping cold turkey into an early bedtime seldom works. Dr. Sarah Honaker, a sleep psychologist at IU Health, recommends a stair-step approach: Move bedtime back by a half hour each night.

For example: — 10 p.m. on Monday, 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 p.m. on Wednesday, and so on until you reach your desired bedtime. Try the same with the alarm clock in the morning.

Calculate necessary sleep time by age

Generally, children are divided up into two age groups for sleep, Honaker said. Children up to 12 years old require nine to 11 hours of sleep a night.

For teenagers, that goes down slightly to between eight to 10 hours.

"When children go through puberty, they tend to experience a delay in their sleep timing, so that's why you see teenagers often not being tired early in the evening and wanting to sleep later in the day," she said.

Form a good pre-bedtime routine

This is a critical time where winding down should be the concern. That can include talking about general, stress-free topics. Music is also good, especially if it is calming.

Exercise can be good — like a walk — but heavy exercise like running isn't suggested before bed.

While homework needs to be done, it's recommended to take a break from it before bed. That way, your child isn’t stressing about it.

Reading can also be a good wind-down activity, as long as it isn't on a tablet or other electronic device.

"Electronic screens can emit blue lights that can suppress your natural melatonin that produce in our brain, plus they can be stimulating. If you have an iPad or a tablet that's close to your face, or if you're playing video games, which are more interactive, those are probably more of an issue in terms of falling asleep compared to having a TV on," Honaker said.

Check on sleeping children

It's important to occasionally check in on your child to make sure they are sleeping and to avoid any possible issues.

"If you have a child who snores regularly, and particularly if you observe the child snorting or gasping, then you would want to talk to a doctor about sleep apnea." Honaker said. "If you have a child who seems tired during the day even though they're getting enough sleep, that would be a red flag."

Keep consistency

Have you heard of social jet lag? Teenagers can experience that if there is a sharp change in their weeknight and weekend sleep patterns.

"Try to keep the weekday and weekend schedules as similar as possible," Honaker said. "That social jet lag can really make it harder to fall asleep and sleep well during the week," she said.

Be aware of insomnia

Insomnia can develop at any age, Dr. Honaker says and there are a variety of reasons for it.

"In some cases, it may be anxiety, it might be fears, or wanting to sleep with mom or dad, or a medical condition like restless leg syndrome," she said.

There is no over-the-counter sleep aide that is approved by the FDA for children. Honaker recommends a visit to the doctor if conditions don't improve over a week.

Monitor over-sleeping

It can be complicated to know if sleeping too much is really an issue. Honaker said usually, spending too much time sleeping is a sign that something else of concern may be going on.

"One example may be depression. Another example may be sleep apnea that's impairing their sleep quality so these kids may not be sleeping well at night so they're having to sleep more to make up for it," she said.

Spot symptoms for low-quality sleep

Look for changes in behavior. Is your child or teenager more irritable? Do they seem to have more sadness or anger? Those can be a sign that children either aren’t getting enough sleep or aren’t getting quality sleep.

"If you have a child who needs to wake up at 8 a.m. for school, and on the weekend they go to bed around the same time, but now they're not waking until about 10, that's a sign they probably need more sleep during the week," Dr. Honaker said.

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