Prepping kids for back-to-school sleep cycles

WASHINGTON – Too many kids are sleep deprived, and the start of a new school year only makes matters worse.

Sleep specialists and child psychologists say it’s important to get all school-aged children on a sleep routine as soon as possible, preferably before classes begin.

“It is especially problematic when they first get back to school,” says Dr. Thomas LoRusso, medical director of the Northern Virginia Sleep Diagnostic Center in Fairfax, Va.

He suggests an incremental approach: Starting about a week or so before school starts, wake the kids up about 15 minutes earlier each day.

LoRusso says it is also a good idea to get them into some bright light as soon as possible when they get out of bed. It helps children adjust their melatonin levels, making it easier for them to fall asleep earlier in the evening.

But parents in several school districts in Maryland are running out of time to get their kids on a learning-friendly sleep routine. Classes begin Aug. 19 in the Prince George’s and Frederick County public schools, and Aug. 20 in Calvert County.

LoRusso says if their kids’ internal clocks are still on vacation time, parents can expect some rough going for the first week or so of the new school year.

He says children in elementary school and beyond should be discouraged from taking late afternoon naps when classes start because that just makes it tougher for them to fall asleep at bedtime.

It’s also a good idea to shut down all their electronics — including video games, smartphones and tablets — an hour before they turn in. LoRusso says there has been some evidence that even the light from these appliances can affect a person’s ability to fall asleep.

The goal should be about nine hours of sleep each night for a high school student and about 10 for a younger child. About half of all kids are not getting their daily requirement, LoRusso says.

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