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August 7, 2006

A University of Michigan Health Minute update on important health issues.

Learning the A-B-Zzzs of healthy back-to-school sleep habits

U-M expert offers tips to help get kids back into a healthy sleep schedule before school begins

ANN ARBOR, MI – You’ve let them stay up late and sleep in all summer. And now, with the first days of school fast approaching, comes the real challenge: Getting your kids back into a routine sleep schedule so they’ll be well-rested and ready to learn at school.


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While some children transition rather quickly into a back-to-school sleep schedule, others may struggle with new bed times and wake-up times, leaving them tired and unprepared for a long day at school.

That’s why University of Michigan Health System Pediatric Sleep Specialist Timothy Hoban, M.D., encourages families to instead plan ahead for the school year, and begin to gradually shift their child’s sleep schedule a few hours every night before summer break is over.

“It’s not easy, especially after a long and lazy summer, to get the kids to bed early and then wake them up in the morning,” says Hoban, director of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at the U-M Health System. “Most parents, however, will find that if they gradually transition their children into an early bedtime, rather than trying to start a new sleep routine the night before the first day of school, it will be easier for the kids to fall asleep and get the rest they need.”

For a good night’s rest, the National Sleep Foundation recommends children in elementary school sleep between 10 and 12 hours each night, and for teens to get about 8 ½ to 9 hours of sleep.

Health Minute ImageHowever, Hoban says, the sleep children and teens actually get each night fall short of those recommendations, and many suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. And that lack of sleep is not only preventing them from being alert and ready to learn at school, but also from leading a healthy life.

“A good night's sleep is important to a child's health and safety,” notes Hoban. “Children and teens who are dealing with chronic sleep deprivation have difficulty learning and paying attention in school, and some research also suggests they’re more likely to be overweight.”

But there are several things parents can do prevent their kids from dozing in class and reaching for the snooze button each morning before school, says Hoban. To help parents and children, he offers several tips to get kids the sleep they need throughout the school year.

Hoban’s 5 tips for healthy back-to-school sleep habits for children and teens:

  • Keep a regular wake-up time and bedtime: If a child is having sleep problems, oversleeping or missing school, it’s important to create a regular sleep routine for them that will work seven days a week. “But children who only have occasional sleep problems may not require an extremely rigid schedule, and sometimes tolerate slightly greater flexibility of bedtime and wake-up time,” says Hoban.
  • Establish a bedtime routine: A bedtime routine can help promote an easy and quick transition to nighttime sleep, he says. For younger children, try 15 to 30 minutes of quiet activities before bedtime, such as reading. Activities parents should discourage before bed include watching television, exercising, and using the computer or video games.
  • Create a balanced schedule: Identify and prioritize activities that allow for downtime and sufficient sleep time. Help students avoid an overloaded schedule that can lead to stress and difficulty coping, which can contribute to poor health and sleep problems.
  • Don’t use the weekends to catch up on sleep: The effects of going to bed late or sleeping in on the weekends can create sleep problems, especially for adolescents, says Hoban. “Children who are weekend night owls or sleep in on the weekends will often have a very different sleep pattern than they do on weekdays, increasing the likelihood for insomnia during the week and making it more difficult for them for them to fall asleep at an appropriate time on school nights.”
  • Be a role model: Parents can be role models for school-aged children by establishing their own regular sleep schedules and a home environment conducive to healthy sleeping habits.

But Hoban does cautions parents against using sleep aids to help their sleep-deprived or drowsy kids. “As a general strategy, I recommend that families try to explore non-medication treatments as first steps since there is very little research on the safety and effectiveness of these medications. Instead, start with giving your kids a regular sleep schedule that provides the opportunity to have a sufficient amount of time to sleep.”

The National Sleep Foundation recommends these basic daily sleep requirements for children, adolescents, pre-teens and teens:

  • Preschoolers: 11-13 hours
  • Elementary school students: 10-12 hours
  • Pre-teens: 9 - 11 hours
  • Teens 8 ½  - 9 hours

For more information, visit these Web sites:
UMHS Your Child: Sleep Problems

National Sleep Foundation: Pointers for Parents

National Institutes of Health: Nine Hours of Sleep Key to “Back to School” Success

KidsHealth: How Much Sleep is Enough for My Child?

Written by Krista Hopson


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