Educators are finding more kids struggling with “sleepy student syndrome.” Even children as young as preschool can’t stay awake in class. Rising early in the morning is difficult, especially teens who tend to be night owls. Kids usually don’t get as much sleep as they need: teens should get 8-9 hours of sleep and younger children, 9-10.Pediatricians urge later school start times to help sleepy students fare better at academics. But as NPR noted, schools don’t and probably won’t delay morning start times. So kids need to figure out how to get better rest. One of the most difficult times is that summer to fall schedule transition. Here are ways to move into an earlier-to-bed routine. The secret is controlling what happens in that time before bed.
Enforce bedtime, even with teens. Parents, you need to take the lead on this and set a good example. Adolescents especially, need to get to bed earlier as their schools start early. If they participate in sports like swimming or “zero hour” classes, kids often need to be at school as early as 5 am. Then after school activities, homework, jobs, sports keep them busy way too late. Sleep deprivation makes them susceptible to viruses like mononucleosis. If your child seems tired all the time, talk to your doctor.
Shut electronics OFF. No matter what age, children and teens should not be connected right up to falling asleep. Texting, social networking, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., keep mind and emotions “on alert.” Kids need time to decompress from daily cares, friend drama, school pressures. They need off switches for even just looking up pictures and watching videos and playing games.
Turn TV off one hour before bed. As sugar revs up the body, television over-stimulates the mind. Watching television before bed can cause vivid, disturbing dreams. Light from electronics often disturbs rest.
Try gentle stretching. Kids should play, get fresh air and exercise, just not before bed. A little yoga can help tired bodies unwind and brains relax. Do mountain pose, sun salutations, down dog, warrior 1 and 2, tree, plow and then shavasana.
Take a warm bath or shower. My kids always slept very well and never really had any sleep issues. They didn’t have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. They didn’t get night frights. Showers or baths have been a nightly ritual since they were toddlers.
Eat a healthy snack. Eating immediately before bed can disturb rest as food digests. But being hungry isn’t good, either. Serve a light, nutritious snack–toast, crackers, cereal. Avoid fatty, spicy, salty, sugary, heavy protein foods. Skip beans, nuts and vegetables. They can cause gas and stomach discomfort. Here are foods that keep you up at night plus bedtime snack alternatives. Oh, and a few sips of water is fine, but not a full glass. Kids will need to urinate frequently.
Read before bed. Books are a magical sleep potion. Stories help kids relax where TV shows hype them up. Read gentle picture books with little ones. Start a chapter book read-aloud with elementary or preteens. Read a book together with your teens. Discuss what you read. Choose stories that are calming.
Daydream and meditate. Teach kids how to lie in bed and allow their brains to relax Remind kids to let go of negative. Focus on positive. Acknowledge failings. Make a note to make amends if necessary. Savor successes. A back massage facilitates relaxation. Family prayers are soothing, too.
No matter how good the routine, the first few weeks of school are challenging. But soon those habits will be set and it will get easier.