It’s that time of year again -- the much-dreaded or highly-anticipated (depending on whether you’re the kid or the parent) back-to-school time when families transition from sleeping in on easy summer mornings to setting alarm clocks and dragging sleepy children out of bed to get to school on time.
Making sure your children get enough sleep is important because it plays a crucial role in how well they perform at school. According to an article by the American Psychological Association, the brain replenishes neurotransmitters during REM sleep to organize neural networks essential for remembering, learning, performance and problem solving.
"Your alertness, energy, performance, thinking, productivity, creativity, safety and health will be affected by how much you sleep," explains James B. Maas, PhD, a professor and former chairman of the psychology department at Cornell University.
Ensuring your kids get enough shut-eye can also affect how smoothly your day starts, since tired and cranky kids have a way of making your mornings chaotic and stressful.
So, how much sleep does your child need? The National Sleep Foundation recommends children between 5-12 years old get between 10-11 hours of sleep, with teenagers needing about 9 ½ hours.
Changing your children’s sleep schedule isn’t something you should start the night before the first day of school. It’s best to ease into it gradually by waking your child up a half hour earlier each day for about four days. Doing this helps them to slowly grow accustomed to waking up earlier, and it helps to make them more tired for bed at night.
Other tips for helping your child to re-establish his sleep routine are offered by Dr. Carol Ash, director of sleep medicine at Meridian Health, as reported by A. Pawlowski, a TODAY contributor:
Adjust bedtime by 15 minutes per night — this will gradually get them closer to their ideal sleep schedule. Make it a family effort.
Enforce an electronics curfew — it takes children an hour to wind down to sleep, but most now have smartphones and other gadgets that allow them to text or play games late at night. Try to have them unplug at least an hour before bed.
Apply the 4-7-8 breathing technique — to help the body relax, tell your child to breathe in for a count of four, then hold for a count of seven and release for a count of eight. Repeat four times before going to bed (and do the same in the morning).
Add fun to bedtime — read a book and create an environment that kids want to go to at night. Fun touches can include hand-painted light bulbs or glow-in-the-dark paint, which can be used to write secret messages your children will see when the lights go out.