Catch zzzzzzzz’s to help get A’s:  Easing into back-to-school bedtime

In many parts of the country twilight still paints the sky at 9:30 and 10:00 o’clock. And yep, the calendar still says “August.” But a new school year is right around the corner, and with it, an early to bed and early to rise routine that summer-minded kids may strenuously resist. Making this big transition in small steps, helps.

Good rest can play a big role in academic performance. Fusion Sleep, an independent medical practice devoted to sleep medicine, last year blogged that “According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a lack of sleep can hinder a student’s ability to stay alert at school, leading to a decline in academic performance and a decrease in grade point averages.” A University of Michigan article noted that it’s true even for traditionally sleep-deprived young adults, saying that “the amount of sleep that a college student gets is one of the strongest predictors of academic success.”

It’s a similar story for the K-12 set. A post titled “Transition Your Kid’s Bedtime for Back to School” at sleep.org says that “Even just 25 minutes of less sleep per night can lead to lower grades, and insufficient rest has also been linked to fatigue and concentration problems in kids.”

But kids who have become used to staying up and sleeping in definitely need transition vs. full immersion into a new routine. The National Sleep Foundation offers “Back to School Sleep Tips,” that include beginning the new/old schedule about two weeks before school starts and not changing it back on the weekends, as well as limiting TV, video games, and “other electronic distractions” before bedtime. The article notes that “The sooner your child readjusts to a school-time sleep-schedule, the better he or she will feel…”

Lisa Meltzer, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at National Jewish Health and an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado School Of Medicine, has written for sleep.org about summertime sleep patterns and their reversal. She advises moving “both the bedtime and wake time 15 minutes earlier every 2-3 nights until the desired sleep schedule is reach.”

While it’s easy to assume that those kids have gotten extra sleep over the summer, the exact opposite may be the case. Another sleep.org post, “The Summer (Sleep) Slide,” by Heather Turgeon, says, “Rather than spend the summer catching up on sleep, kids can accumulate sleep debt that affects their health, mood, and ability to learn.” She suggests that similar to the summer slide in academic learning, a sleep slide is a real thing. Turgeon notes that “Preschoolers need 11 – 13 hours of sleep and school age kids need 10.5 – 12 hours.”

Besides phasing in new routines, what can help with bringing on sleepy? For younger kids, bedtime stories with mom and dad remain a great way to share quality time, create precious memories, and help kids wind down. The Start to Read! Series offers lots of short, charming options. With little ones bath time is usually right before bedtime and music can de-stress both routines. Find full MP3 albums to download that go along with some of the Start to Read! Books as well as individual songs that help teach and reinforce readiness skills and make learning fun.

Reading quietly can also be a good option for older kids, tweens, and teens. To avoid pre-bedtime exposure to the “blue light” of electronic screens that increasing evidence suggests may interfere with sleep, introduce them to some of the classics such as Pollyanna, Great Expectations, and Beauty and the Beast and the literal idea of a page-turner with actual paper pages!

Good stories, good music, and good rest, combined with a little planning, can contribute to a great new school year.