Newswise — ST. LOUIS – Summer vacation is coming to an end. It’s now time to get back to school and to a regular bedtime.
And as the school year looms, parents are scrambling to get their kids accustomed to the new sleep schedule. Getting good quality and enough sleep is crucial for a child’s health and behavior, says Shalini Paruthi, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and a SLUCare sleep expert at Saint Louis University.
“If kids don’t go to sleep on time, they tend to wake up late and not be ready for bed on time the next night. Sleep deprivation can also cause them to lose focus and make more mistakes at school,” Paruthi said.
She offers some tips on how to get your kids to sleep at a regular time.
1. Sleep schedule: One of the most important parts of maintaining a proper sleep schedule is for parents to get their kids into a regular sleep schedule a week before school starts. “It takes time to change a child’s schedule, so it’s really important for parents to wake them up at their usual school time a few days before school starts,” Paruthi said, a pediatric sleep specialist at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center.
2. Avoid naps: Once kids are up at their usual school time, parents should have activities lined up to keep them busy throughout the day, so they don’t nap during the day.
3. Put away electronics at least 30 minutes before bed: In this tech-savvy age, a lot of kids are used to playing games or watching videos on computers, tablets and smartphones. Paruthi says parents should minimize their child’s activity on these devices at least a half hour before bed time. “The light on the screen can inhibit the production of melatonin. Using electronic devices can stimulate brain activities, which can make it difficult to fall asleep.”
4. Wind down: Having a bedtime routine can help a child fall asleep. The goal is to do the same exact activities in the same order every night. Usually a 15-minute bedtime routine is ideal. “Taking a shower, changing into pajamas, brushing teeth and listening to a bedtime story are good bedtime routine activities. This helps the brain and body wind down from active to quiet, to help fall asleep. ”
5. Bedtime should not be used as a punishment: “Parents should avoid using bedtime as a punishment. For example if a parent sends their child to bed early as a punishment for bad behavior, the child may begin to develop a bad association with going to sleep. We want sleep to be a good, positive nightly experience,” she said.
6. Bedtime passes: “I need to go to the bathroom,” or “I’m scared,” are phrases some kids often use when stalling at bedtime. Paruthi suggests using the bedtime pass concept – two handmade decorated cards. Each night, at the time of lights out, the child is given two passes, which he or she can use each time they need to speak with a parent or get out of bed. If the child is able to keep one or both passes until morning, then each pass can be redeemed for an incentive. Great incentives include stickers or five minutes of extra TV time.
7. Be sure to treat underlying medical sleep disorders: “If a parent has tried all of the above and other ideas, and their child is still having difficulty falling asleep or has awakenings during the night, talk with your pediatrician or local pediatric sleep expert to determine if your child might have a sleep disorder. Two common, easily treatable sleep disorders are obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.” Paruthi says.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.