Back to school after the summer holidays – the time of year when children realise how fast time actually goes. One minute they’re celebrating being off school for six weeks, and next they’re buying new pencil cases and having to try on new uniforms.
It’s also a time of the year that can be problematic when it comes to sleep. It’s only natural during the summer that parents allow their children to stay up a little later, but this can cause a few issues when it comes to having to get up early once school starts again.
We spoke to sleep expert Dr Robert Rosenberg for his advice on the matter:
Why might children’s sleep be an issue when they go back to school?
The principal issue stems from a lack of a bedtime routine during the summer holidays, which can be problematic, particularly in younger children. The natural tendency for children to be allowed to stay up later at night, and wake up later in the mornings, impacts their circadian rhythms (the body’s natural daily cycles) making it more difficult for children to readjust and awaken for school. In addition to this, late night television viewing is a problem that has a bearing on children’s sleep behaviour.
The images below, taken from our 7 Sleep Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making infographic, explains why both television and electrical devices can be bad for your sleep.
Do you have any advice for parents who have two children of different ages?
Yes. Be aware that children of different ages require different amounts of sleep. Also, note that two siblings may have different circadian clocks influencing when they are comfortable falling asleep and waking up. Within reasonable limits, one size may not fit all.
What would be the optimum bedtime for children getting up for school?
Try and calculate this using the National Sleep Foundation guidelines and work backwards from wake-up time required, to be up and able to go to school feeling awake and refreshed. Observe your child’s alertness when they wake up in the morning. If a 10 year old with 9 hours of sleep is hard to wake up and cannot get going in the morning, extend sleep time to 10 hours. Try to get this established before school starts.
What tips would you give to parents looking to re-establish their child’s bedtime routine?
- Begin making bedtime and wake time 15 minutes earlier in advance of school starting again.
- Calculate sleep/wake timing knowing how much sleep your child needs. School age children need nine to eleven hours, while teenagers need eight to ten hours according to the most recent National Sleep Foundation recommendations.
- Turn off all sources of blue light 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime as this can keep your child awake for longer.
- If you child has a television in their bedroom, consider moving it out of the room. You could also do this with their interactive electronics.
- Re-establish a bedtime routine.
- Keep a comfortable temperature in the bedroom of 18 to 21 degrees Celsius (65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Eliminate caffeine consumption of any type, such as coffee-based drinks, dark chocolate, and soft drinks.
Should teachers expect children to be sleepy/grumpy when school starts again? Do you have any advice for them?
Yes. In many cases that is true. However, if this continues after a few weeks, it is important for the teacher to bring this to the attention of the parents. There may be an underlying sleep disorder, such as sleep apnoea or even narcolepsy causing the sleepiness. The earlier these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the better it is for the child’s development. In addition, as I discuss in my book Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day, children with ADHD may present with sleepiness during the day. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that teachers be alert to any sleepy children in their class.
In his previous post, The Difficult Relationship Between Teenagers and Sleep, Dr Rosenberg said that he thinks early school start times could be a bigger issue:
“We need to convince our local schools to institute later start times, especially for teenagers. In the USA, several studies have demonstrated an improvement in academic performance and a decrease in motor vehicle accidents in school districts that have adopted this policy.”
Do you think school start times are too early? Do you have any tips for getting children back into the school routine? If so, let us know in the comments below or click the banner below to check out our Morning Routine Cheat Sheet infographic.