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Catching kids up on their zzz's: It all starts with a routine


Like most families, your kids probably stayed up later over the long summer days, and now that you're about to begin the school year -the bedtime battles begin. The struggle to get kids back on a sleep routine can be fierce, and some parents may even want to forego the challenge altogether. But know this: When kids don't get enough sleep, their physical health and mental health are negatively impacted. Setting a routine will set your kids up for a successful and healthy school year!

Why kids need their sleep

It may come as surprise just how much sleep kids actually need each night. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids aged 6 to 11 get 10 to 11 hours and ages 12 to 18 get at least 9 hours. Most kids don't get nearly the sleep they need, and the effects of sleep deprivation are very real.

While we sleep, brain cells set to work getting rid of toxins in the body; think of taking out the brain trash each night. When kids don't get enough rest, parents will notice memory and alertness suffering, behavioral problems, and moodiness. Even scarier, the risk for diabetes and weight gain increases.

"It has been proven that adequate sleep is vital for children to grow - this is most crucial during infancy but is still just as important for toddlers and adolescents," says Jennifer Bang, MD, board-certified family medicine physician at Methodist Family Health Center - Preston Hollow. "Another health benefit of sufficient sleep is to strengthen the immune system - studies in teens have linked more sleep to less episodes of illness."

A child's ability to learn is directly tied to the amount of sleep he or she gets. It is common to see a drop in academic performance when there is a lack of sleep. Students often try to become more active and fidgety to stay alert in the classroom, but it can result in disruptive behavior and under-performance.

Bedtime routine tips

Ask any parent about his or her least favorite part of school starting, and you're likely to hear about the bedtime battles. Experts suggest parents keep their kiddos on a sleep schedule throughout the summer, but if that doesn't happen, start two to three weeks before the first bell rings. Need more tips? Check out these other tips:

  • Hold a family meeting to establish the school routine.
  • Set a time and stick to it - don't use weekends to "catch up."
  • Have a wind-down routine that starts well before bedtime.
  • Establish a quiet time that has relaxing activities, like bath and story time or reading for older children.
  • Turn off electronics an hour before bedtime.
  • Avoid large meals and caffeine close to bedtime.
  • Create the right sleep environment - dark, cool room and comfy bed.
  • For older kids, use back-to-school shopping as a reward for establishing and maintaining a routine.

"The bottom line is that the key to a successful night of sleep for your child is establishing and maintaining a routine," says Dr. Bang. "If your child expects two stories to be read, make sure every night two - not one, not five - stories are read.

"Finally, make sure every caregiver understands and follows the game plan. Everyone needs to be on the same page in order for a successful routine to be established."

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