Sleep Tops Back to School List


Notebooks, pencils, pens, markers, backpack – check. Your kids are all ready for school. Right? Wrong.

Chances are your elementary student and high schooler have been staying up late and sleeping in, since school let out in June. If they haven’t started getting into a regular sleep pattern that matches school start times, they will be headed back to class sleep deprived. And that can impact their health, their moods, and their grades.

“Sleep deprivation can result in decreased mental alertness,” says Jenniferleigh Clune, family nurse practitioner at Cortland Regional’s family medicine practice. “Studies show that kids who lack sleep display the same symptoms as children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder – they’re impulsive, hyperactive, and easily distracted. Sleep deprivation can affect learning and relationships – how they get along with their teachers and their peers.”

Lack of sleep also leads to emotional and physical problems, including depression and obesity. “When children don’t sleep enough, their immune systems are weakened, so they’re more likely to get sick,” says nurse Practitioner Jackie Gagen from Cortland Regional’s internal medicine.

Physician Assistant Susan Jewett follows the American Association of Pediatrics guidelines to determine how much sleep school-aged children need: nine to 12 hours a night for children ages 6 to 12 and for teenagers, 13 to 18, eight to 10 hours a night.

Since it can take several weeks to get everyone back on schedule, Gagen suggests doing it incrementally. “Determine when your children have to be up in the morning, and with the number of hours they need to sleep, set the bedtime. Then start working the kids back to that time by 15 minutes every couple of nights.”

Once parents set the schedule, they need to keep youngsters to that routine, even on the weekends. “You can’t make up for a lack of sleep during the week by sleeping in on Saturday. Research shows it’s not just about how much sleep you get, but also timing when you sleep. If you get up at the same time every day, you feel ready to sleep at the same time every night,” Clune says.

Good sleep hygiene also means preparing for sleep before going to bed. Gagen recommends an hour of quiet time before the appointed bed time – no stimulating video games and turning off the computers, smartphones and tablets. And no televisions in the bedroom.

Jewett agrees. “They are a distraction, and the lights on the LED screens reduce the amount of melatonin the body produces, and melatonin helps us to sleep. We have seen research that shows that LED lights impact teenagers, especially adolescent girls.”

It may seem like a minor detail, but the right bedtime combined with a healthy diet – no skipping breakfast! – fresh air, physical exercise and limited time with electronics makes a big difference in your child’s academic success.

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