Most kids in Eastern Carolina start school in three weeks, and experts say this is the time to start working on getting their kids back into a healthy sleep routine. Dr. Ronald Perkin, a pediatric sleep expert and the chair of ECU Pediatrics, says it will take several days to shift a child's sleep schedule from the late nights of summer.
For parents to understand how to shift sleep, there are some basic tenets of sleep they should understand first. Dr. Perkin says a lot of parents do not know just how much sleep children need. An adolescent needs about nine hours of sleep, while school-aged children need between ten to eleven hours. Preschool kids need between eleven and twelve hours of sleep per night.
Perkin is a big advocate of bedtime routines and suggests getting yours started between 30 and 60 minutes before you want the child to go to sleep. While routine exercise is good for children, avoid any strenuous exercise or rough play within an hour of bedtime.
Parents have often heard about the great impact reading can have on the child's personal reading skills. Dr. Perkin says it can be a calming way to get your child into bed.
Dr. Perkin also recommends limiting caffeine or keeping it out of a child's diet completely. Be sure to check any medicine they take for caffeine.
While it may be unpopular with parents and children, Dr. Perkin says no child should have any electronics, including televisions, in their bedroom. He says parents should create a "sleep sanctuary" for their child by keeping the room dark and cool.
When it comes to actually shifting a child's bedtime earlier, Dr. Perkin recommends parents first focus on what time they need the child to get up. If a child needs to wake up at 6 a.m. for school, the parent should start waking the child up at that time. For older kids, an alarm clock, on the other side of the room, will work. Parents can gently wake up younger children. Shortly after waking the child up, you should expose them to bright light and get them started on the day.
The first day may be difficult. The child will be sleepier because of the early start, but Dr. Perkin says you should avoid allowing them to take a nap. That will make them better prepared for an earlier bedtime.
Parents should try to move the child's bedtime earlier gradually. Dr. Perkin says 15 or 30 minutes earlier each night works best.
If you suspect your child has a serious sleep problem, you should consult your doctor.
The American Academy of Pediatrics developed the acronym BEARS for pediatricians to ask about bedtime problems, and this can help parents see if they should contact their doctor. The "B" stands bedtime problems; the "E" for excessive daytime sleepiness; the "A' for awakenings during the night; the "R" for regularity and duration of sleep; and the "S" for sleep-disoriented breathing, such as snoring. Dr. Perkin says the academy recommends any child that snores see a doctor.