A new school year is only a few sleeps away, and parents everywhere are wondering how their kids will adjust to the new early time schedule after a whole summer of lazy, hazy days, staying up into the wee hours, and sleeping in.
From bedtime battles to the misery of morning wake up call, Dr. Adam Moscovitch, Medical Director of Calgary’s Sleep & Fatigue Institute (and father of four school-aged children), says summertime sleep habits die hard.
“Late summer nights combined with early school start times, and the stresses of just being a kid, deprive our children of essential sleep,” he says. “And sleep deprivation often wreaks havoc with health, academic performance and behaviours. It is an unrecognized epidemic.”
Some compelling facts about sleep disorders and habits in children:
• Two thirds of school aged children have some kind of a sleep problem.
• One third of High School students report to be falling asleep in class at least once a week.
• Insufficient sleep in children is associated with fatigue, dozing off in class, difficulties concentrating, attention deficit, behavioral problems, and lower level social skills.
• Children of any age can snore and have Sleep apnea, a breathing disorder in sleep. Poorly
performing students were two to three times more likely to have frequent and loud snoring.
The endless hours of video games, late night movies, played through the night must come to an end and, unfortunately, switching from a nocturnal schedule can be painful come the first week of school.
Take a look at the following tips to make life a little easier for the dreaded upcoming school mornings:
1. Start early – Don’t wait until school starts to modify your child’s sleep routine. If your child starts adjusting schedule this Labour Day weekend, the first week or two of mornings back to school will be less painful.
2. Make incremental changes – Inch back wake-up times by 15 minutes or so until you reach the ideal time for your child’s particular school schedule. You can’t force children to sleep, but you can enforce wake-up times and adjust the bedtime accordingly.
3. Discourage daytime naps – For a successful night’s sleep, try to avoid naps, limit them to 20-30 minutes.
4. Try to stick to a regular family breakfast and dinner time – Breakfast is important to rev up your child’s day. Be sure children are up in time for a proper and healthy breakfast for successful school performance in morning classes.
5. Limit bedtime television viewing – For children, this also might mean late-night video game time. That can have a negative effect on Melatonin levels, in addition to stimulating the child .
6. Create a restful environment – The darker the room, the better quality of sleep. If your child needs a night light, keep it soft and place it out of direct line of sight.
7. Snack if hungry – If your child is hungry late at night, a light and healthy snack is better than a large meal before bedtime. Choose something low carb and low in sugar such as an apple, cheese or yogurt. This will fit the hungry bill but won’t disrupt a child’s blood sugar or upset their digestive system.
8. Avoid excessive caffeine consumption – For adolescent and older students, heavily caffeinated beverages are now more popular than ever. Their consumption can be the equivalent of amphetamine usage with consequent insomnia. Green and black tea can also contain caffeine, so remember to consume in moderation.
9. Bright light exposure in the morning – Particularly helpful in teenagers and young adults who can’t fall asleep late into the night will find it difficult to wake up on school days, and sleep-in on weekends. They might be having a Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS).
10. Talk about sleep issues – The inability to sleep could be a sign of a bigger issue such as problems with bullies or friendships, stress over a new school, an early or heavy class schedule, new classmates, or a more significant—a sleep disorder that has gone undiagnosed.
With time, patience, and perhaps a little negotiating, parents will be able to navigate their child into a healthy sleep pattern that benefits their brain’s performance (including their critical thinking, gross motor and problem solving skills), as well as their confidence and sociability in school.
If all those simple measures fail, your child might be having a more significant sleep disorder that can benefit from seeing a sleep specialist.
Dr. Adam Moscovitch’s training and practice of Sleep Medicine extend over the last 27 years, initially with Dr. John Remmers at the University of Calgary Sleep Apnea Research Group, followed by two years at Stanford as a visiting scholar and National Institute of Health Fellow. He returned to Calgary initially in 1990, and served the Southern Alberta population for the next two decades, initially at the Foothills Sleep Group, followed by 15 years as the Founder and Medical Director of one of North America’s premier sleep centers. After three years hiatus from Alberta, he has returned to provide his services out of a new facility—The Sleep and Fatigue Institute. He is Diplomate of the American Boards of Sleep Medicine, Psychiatry & Neurology, and Forensic Medicine, and Associate Clinical Professor, Faculty of Medicine the University of Calgary.