The lazy days of summer are coming to a close. School will be starting soon and it will be “early to bed, early to rise” once again. I think I can speak for most parents when I say that getting the kids back into the school year routine is challenging at best making mornings in particular, miserable. This year I vowed to make it easier for all of us. I’m fortunate enough that I work in healthcare and have access to the experts. I solicited some advice from sleep and behavioral medicine specialist, Thaddeus Shattuck, MD from St. Mary’s Center for Sleep Disorders.
First of all, how much sleep do children need? “While every child is different,” says Dr. Shattuck, “generally speaking, children between the ages of 5 and 12 should get somewhere around 10 to 11 hours of sleep, ages 12 to18, about 8.5 to 9.5 hours sleep.”
If your kids are used staying up until 9:00pm in the summer, don’t expect them to suddenly fall asleep at 8pm. A simple hour change can translate into sleepless nights. We all know a child who is not well rested will have difficulty learning and adjusting to a new teacher and classroom routine.
Dr. Shattuck suggests gradually setting back bed time. Put your kids to bed 15 minutes earlier each night and wake them up 15 minutes earlier each morning. Ideally you’d like them adjusted to their schedule a week before the start of school.
Practicing good sleep hygiene is also helpful. Start winding down after dinner. Taking a bath, reading a book, and listening to soothing music will help make the transition from busy day to restful night easier. Then, make sure your child’s room is cool, quiet and dark or dimly lit at bedtime.
“Turn off all your electronics an hour before bedtime,” says Dr. Shattuck. “Light from a tablet, laptop, or smart phone is at the blue end of the color spectrum. This color is common in daylight, but not at night. Using these devices before bed can disrupt your circadian rhythm, your body’s internal clock. Don’t leave these devices charging next to your bed either. Even small amounts of that light can trick your brain into thinking it’s morning and wake you from a peaceful sleep.”
In a nutshell, the key to a good night’s sleep is having a bedtime routine and keeping it year round. “Whether it is summer, Christmas vacation, or the weekend, maintaining the nighttime
ritual is best for your child,” says Dr. Shattuck. “You can still have the occasional late night to watch the fireworks or tell ghost stories by the campfire, but try to get back on track after that.”
Something to keep in mind for next summer!
Now, off to complete my back-to-school shopping list.
Dr. Thaddeus Shattuck is the Medical Director at the Center for Sleep Disorders at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center. He earned his master’s degree in Public Health from The Dartmouth Institute and his medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire. He completed his fellowship in Sleep Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.
Dr. Shattuck is the president of the Maine Sleep Society and a member of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He is board certified in Sleep Medicine and Psychiatry.
Jennifer Radel has been the Community Relations Manager at St. Mary’s Health System in Lewiston, Maine for eight years. On a daily basis she gets to work with some of the best health care providers in the State of Maine, and routinely picks their brains for the best ways to keep her family and friends healthy. Jennifer is a mom of two boys and wife who volunteers with several community groups. She is on the Board of Directors for Literacy Volunteers-Androscoggin. Prior to coming to St. Mary’s, Jennifer spent nearly 15 years working in television, mainly as a news producer in upstate New York and Portland, Maine. During that time she received the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence among other awards for journalism.