North Alabama doctors stress importance of sleep as kids head back to school

One of the biggest challenges going back to school can be getting enough sleep, especially after a summer with no alarm clock. Pediatricians say consistency is key when it comes to getting a good night's rest.

Posted: Jul 29, 2019 4:16 PM
Updated: Jul 30, 2019 10:54 AM

For most families, this is the final week of summer break.

One of the biggest challenges going back to school can be getting enough sleep, especially after a summer with no alarm clock.

Pediatricians say consistency is key when it comes to getting a good night's rest.

"It's vital, your brain does not work unless you get good sleep," explained Pediatric Hospitalist, Dr. Suzanne Rastorfer, "(So) It's so important to put kids to bed on time and to be consistent about it so that they can think and learn in school."

While the ideal number of hours in a sleep cycle varies by age, throw in homework and after school activities and many parents are lucky if their kids even hit the minimum number.

"If kids are elementary-age it's anywhere between 10 to 13 hours, in middle school aged (kids) more like 9 to 11 hours, and then high school 8 to 10 hours," said Dr. Rastorfer.

"My son he's 15, during the school year he doesn't get enough sleep because of the homework and the after-school activity and volunteer work he does," expressed Shekofeh Biaza, a mother of three.

"It's hard getting them to bed at a decent time especially when the weather's pretty, it's too tempting to stay up late," said Maryann Hood, also a mother of three.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that school start later in the morning so that they can get more sleep, unfortunately that's not the way things have gone," explained Dr. Rastorfer.

She says parents should take an active role in helping children establish a bedtime routine. For younger kids, she suggests giving them a warm bath, reading, and dimming the lights.

"Going to bed at the same time every night, those are very important things," she continued, "(and) Older kids it's very important for them to turn off their screens at least an hour prior to bedtime so that they can wind down, and their brains can sort of shut off before they go to bed."

Other parents, like Maryann Hood, rely on supplements for help.

"Melatonin gets them to bed easy, it gives him a good night sleep and they are well rested the next morning."

While irritability and fatigue may be a telltale sign your child is lacking sleep, Dr. Rastorfer says the opposite is true for younger kids.

"It's interesting because little children will actually not act tired, they tend to act hyper if they don't get enough sleep," said Dr. Rastorfer.

And don't just take her word for it.

"If you don't get enough sleep you aren't prepared for tomorrow morning and then you end up getting in trouble because you try to fall asleep in class or you're just plain tired and start misbehaving," said Lilliana Byers, a rising third grader.

The Byers family tries to stick to the same schedule year-round.

"They might stay up an hour later at night, but they're up at 6 in the morning 7 days a week no matter what's going on," said dad, Charles Byers, "She's asleep by 9:00 Charles's usually asleep by 9:30-10:00."

Both Lilliana and Charles understand the importance of a good night's sleep. Establishing good habits now, to help them as they grow.

"A lot of kids that don't sleep either get C's or lower so they get really bad grades, and that's not good because you want to go to college and you have to have good grades," explained rising sixth grader, Charles Byers Jr.

If your kids have been staying up later because of summer break, Dr. Rastorfer suggests backing up bedtime by 15 minutes every few days now, to allow them to gradually adjust to the change without it being a shock to their system on the first day or during the first week of school.

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