Working on Our Sleep Health

Okay, school is back in session, we are starting to get into routines, and everyone is trying to figure out what works best for them. But there’s one thing that is very important to focus on – sleep. In fact, more than half of parents (57%) with school-age children say that they have a child or teen who does not get enough sleep on school nights. We are definitely part of that 57%, are you?

This week, September 14-20, marks first Student Sleep Health Week, hosted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Highlighting the importance of healthy sleep for students, there’s no better time to take a deep dive into the world of sleep and all that it does for our kids.

Header: Did you know?

Did you know that 94% of parents acknowledge that sleep impacts their children’s mood, and 93% understand its correlation to performance in school? Parents also acknowledge the impact which their children’s sleep has on physical health (92%), mental health (90%) and performance in sports or other activities (90%).

We have experienced this more than our fair share of times this year. Noticing our children’s moods when they don’t get enough sleep is ever-too easy. Also, when our kids are playing sports we notice they aren’t as excited or active when they don’t get the sleep that is recommended.

Then, more than a third (35%) of parents of children between the ages of five and 18 say that remote or online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their children’s nightly amount of sleep. Our kids have become comfortable with no routine and we are going to do something to change that.

Header: Where to begin?

Starting a schedule and routine for our kids can be the hardest part, but as you continue to work on it, it gets better every day. When students obtain their recommended nightly hours of sleep, they:

  • Excel in the classroom by maximizing attention, memory and learning abilities
  • Perform better in sports, with faster, stronger and more accurate outcomes
  • Feel their best and have a more optimistic attitude toward life o Look their best and maintain a healthy weight

One of the best ways students can prepare for success this school hear is to commit to getting the healthy sleep they need to learn, function, and grow. For us, these are vital for our children as they are coming off from being away from school after the quick change in school schedules last year and also starting new schools and school schedules.

Nixon is starting first grade where he will be attending full day of school two days a week. And Olive and Will are doing preschool, which is a half day, but longer than what they are used to. Especially Will since this is his first year of school.

Header: Can you sleep too much or too little?

Sleep is one of the three pillars of health, along with nutrition and exercise. We do a great job at focusing on our kids’ nutrition by making well balanced meals and exercise through sports and keeping screen time down. But if you aren’t working on their sleep you miss out on one of the pillars making things difficult to stand (like taking away a leg of a three-legged chair).

Regularly sleeping fewer than the recommended hours may be associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems. In turn, regularly sleeping more than the recommended hours may be associated with adverse health outcomes such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and mental health problems.

It’s important to recognize that the benefits of healthy sleep require not only adequate sleep duration, but also appropriate timing, daily regularity, good sleep quality, and the absence of sleep disorders.

If you are needing to figure out the appropriate bedtime for your child, The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) Bedtime Calculator is a great resource for children, teens – and even adults!

Header: Student sleep per age group

I was blown away when I read that children age 6-12 years old should sleep nine to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health. We have gotten better at this, but it’s not a consistent thing. I know that if we were better, we may not have problems with attention, behavior, and attitude problems.

Two things to know when thinking of your child’s health with sleep:

  • It is important to promote healthy sleep habits in early childhood, as these are critical years of growth and early development.
  • Children who sleep well are healthier and happier. They also are more alert and ready to learn in the classroom.

Maybe you have older kids (teenagers 13-18 years old). They should sleep eight to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health. For me, when I was a teenager, that was an easy number to hit. But remember, too much sleep causes hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and mental health problems.

  • A natural shift in the timing of the body’s internal “circadian” clock occurs during puberty, causing most teens to have a biological preference for a late-night bedtime.
  • Returning to an early morning school schedule can be a shock to the system for teens who have been free to be night owls during the summer.

So if you are heading into these years, or already there with your kids, these are all great things to know and remember.

Header: Things are crazy with COVID-19

There’s no way to avoid this timely topic of conversation —COVID-19! It has really thrown a wrench in things, messing up with sleep schedules due to schools across the country turning to distance learning. This is one of the biggest challenges students face to maintaining a consistent and healthy sleep/wake schedule.

As parents/caregivers we need to try to create a routine for our children, incorporating sleep into the routine being a very important component.

With Nixon doing distance learning three times a week, he doesn’t have to get up at a specific time to catch the bus, carpool, or bike/walk to school. Structuring his sleep schedule will help him embrace a new daily routine.

Sleep is essential to helping students stay motivated and focused on their education and classwork, so we try to continue with morning and bedtime routines including having him get up and go to bed at a regular schedule to make sure he gets enough sleep.

This isn’t as easy with the other two, but we work on it and try keeping everyone on the same schedules and routines, making it easier for us as parents.

Header: As parents, set the example

Parents should encourage routines that will help their kids get enough sleep during the school year. The back-to-school transition is an important time to get your kids back on track. And I think it’s a great time for us as parents to get back on track, too.

Parents can help by modeling healthy sleep habits, promoting a consistent sleep schedule with a gradual transition at least two weeks before school starts. As kids are preparing (or already going) to go back to school, they should gradually go to bed at least 15 minutes earlier each night and wake up 15 minutes earlier each morning until they are on their school schedule. 

Some simple suggestions to add to their routine would be:

  • Adding reading, journaling, or taking a warm bath or shower to their nightly routine
  • Setting restrictions on screen time before bed, key to helping students get to sleep on time

Parents and caregivers who are concerned that their child is sleeping too little or too much should consult a doctor. To find a local specialist at an accredited sleep center, visit www.sleepeducation.org.

Header: Team work makes dreams work

This isn’t a one sided where parents are the ones fully responsible to helping their kids get good sleep. Influencers such as teachers, coaches, school nurses, and counselors can play a key role in ensuring students get enough sleep and helping students develop healthy sleep habits that will last a lifetime.

If you are an educator, please visit http://school.sleepeducation.com/ to access K-12 lesson plans and activities developed by the AASM to generate interest in the study of sleep medicine and to raise awareness of sleep disorders.

As a community, we can all do better at helping our children be the best they can be. With better sleep and creating schedules and routines that work for everyone involved, everyone will be much happier and find more success.

This post was sponsored by American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), but all thoughts and ideas are my own.

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