By Joyce Wilson
When you’re young, getting eight hours of sleep per night feels like a chore. There are so many fun things to do and sleep only interrupts the fun! However, sleep has more benefits than giving parents a few hours of quiet time.
According to the Penn State Extension, sleep is just as important to health as diet and exercise. Children who sleep the right amount each night get sick less often, are less likely to become obese or develop diabetes and are better at regulating their behavior and moods. Proper sleep also helps youth perform their best academically: Sleep helps the brain retain information so children remember what they’ve learned from one day to the next. Insufficient sleep, on the other hand, is associated with poor attention span and distractibility.
Of course, understanding the importance of sleep doesn’t make achieving it any easier. From grade-schoolers dawdling at bedtime to college students staying up late to cram for exams, there are lots of obstacles to quality sleep. If you’re ready to overcome them and improve your household’s sleep quality, follow these tips for better sleep through the school year.
1. Be Consistent
When you go to sleep at the same time each night, falling asleep is easier. That’s because a consistent sleep-wake cycle programs your body to feel tired at the same time each day. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
2. Shift the Clock Slowly
When you do need to change bedtimes, like during the switch from a school break, don’t do it all at once. Abrupt changes in a child’s sleep schedule lead to sleep problems and create a sleep debt that’s hard to make up. Craig Canapari, MD, director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center, recommends shifting sleep schedules no more than 10-15 minutes per day. If a child needs to get up two hours earlier when school starts up again, that means you need at least eight days to adjust.
3. Create a Healthy Sleep Environment
Getting to bed on time isn’t the only challenge. An uncomfortable bedroom also disrupts sleep. Discomfort may be due to temperature, light, noise, bedding, or allergy-related breathing problems. Use these tips to improve bedroom comfort:
- Replace lumpy or sagging mattresses, or mattresses more than seven to 10 years old.
- Maintain total darkness in bedrooms. Use blackout curtains or blinds to exclude outside light. If a nightlight is necessary, use a red bulb.
- Keep nighttime temperatures between 60-67 degrees.
- Limit noise that can be heard in bedrooms. If your home has thin walls, use a white noise machine.
- Use air purifiers in bedrooms of allergy sufferers to improve nighttime breathing and indoor air quality. This is especially important if there are any smokers in the home as secondhand smoke can trigger allergy-like symptoms. If you do invest in an air purifier, find one that runs quietly and has carbon and HEPA filters.
4. Limit Screen Time Before Bed
Between doing homework, chatting with friends, playing games and watching TV, screens play a big role in kids’ lives. While there are many benefits to having technology at your fingertips, using electronics too close to bedtime interferes with sleep. Schedule a screen shutdown one hour before bedtime so your children’s bodies can start winding down for sleep. If having devices in the bedroom is too tempting, establish a docking area outside of bedrooms where kids can leave devices to charge before heading to bed.
Kids may initially push back against bedtime changes, especially restrictions on electronic devices. However, with time, kids will adapt to their new routine and head to bed with less of a struggle. With luck, the good habits you shape today will carry into adulthood, leading to adults who are well-rested and ready to take on the world.