Developing a healthy back-to-school sleep schedule

As summer winds down and school starts back up, one of the most important things for a child to do is develop a healthy sleep schedule. While parents may only need seven hours of sleep per night to function, it is recommended that elementary school aged children get nine to 11 hours of sleep per night. As during the summer months children’s bedtimes vary, experts say it’s important for children to get back into a sleep routine prior to the first day of school.

Dr. Evan Burton, an internal medicine physician and pediatrician with The University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC) recommends the following five tips to parents for developing a healthy sleep routine for children:

Be consistent. “Keeping a child’s sleep routine consistent, even on weekends, will help maintain the regulation of your child’s internal clock and ensure he or she is getting the right amount of sleep.”

Limit screen time. “Parents should turn off the television and other electronics, including smart devices, at least an hour before bedtime.” Burton explains that the light that comes from the screens of electronics can confuse our bodies into believing it’s still daylight outside which in turn can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Cut off caffeine. “Children should not consume caffeine at least six hours before their bedtime as it can interrupt their sleep patterns.”

Exercise. “Exercising after school is great for children because it allows them to release any additional energy they may have post-school.” According to Burton, children who have extra energy before bed often find it more difficult to fall asleep.

Create a calm environment. “Your child’s sleep environment should be conducive to sleep.” Burton says this means making sure children’s rooms are dark and within a comfortable sleeping temperature. Additionally, white noise created by a fan or sound machine can also help soothe a child to sleep.

Burton explains that when a child doesn’t get enough sleep, it can create problems with the skills he or she needs to be adaptive for learning.

“Attention, concentration, memory, problem-solving, and decision-making all depend on the consistency of a child’s sleep schedule,” said Burton.

Burton says inadequate sleep in a child also affects their mood and thinking.

“When children do not get enough sleep, they may have problems regulating mood swings,” said Burton. “An uncontrolled mood can lead to wider and more rapid reactions to even minor events because children are less likely to think before they act.

“Developing a sleep schedule for your child is one of the most beneficial things a parent can do because it will not only ensure that your child is healthy, but it will also positively affect the way they perform in the classroom.”

For reliable information on taking care of your health or a loved one’s health, contact UTMC’s Health Information Center at 865.305.9525 or online at www.utmedicalcenter.org/hic. Staffed by medical librarians and certified health information specialists, the Health Information Center offers an extensive health library, and help with the research on specific health conditions – all free of charge and available to the public.