Getting Kids R.E.S.T. Important for Back-to-School Success

Summer is a wonderful time for kids. They have more freedom to play, explore and swim — but they are also out of their normal school routines by staying up late and sleeping in late. Parents dread the first week of school for many reasons, but one big reason is the difficulty in getting them back into a proper bedtime and sleep pattern.

I’m often asked about the proper amount of sleep kids need at all different ages. I refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This was addressed in June 2016 when the AAP endorsed the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s guidelines outlining recommended sleep durations. For children 6-12 years old, nine to 12 hours of sleep per 24 hours is recommended on a regular basis to promote optimal health. For teenagers 13-18 years old, eight to10 hours of sleep per 24 hours is recommended.

Adequate sleep improves attention, behavior, learning and memory. Not getting enough sleep each night has been associated with obesity and hypertension — an increasing problem in our society. More alarming is the fact that lack of adequate sleep in kids is associated with an increase in depression, especially for teens who may experience an increased risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

I know we are all concerned about our kids becoming increasingly detached and disengaged between television, cell phones and video games. Often times, symptoms of depression are missed or hidden because parents think that their children are just escaping the stress of being a teenager or kid these days. We certainly don’t need another reason, such as lack of sleep, to contribute to our children becoming at risk for depression.

So, how can we make sure our kids are getting adequate amounts of sleep? I use the acronym R.E.S.T. to counsel parents of the four important parts of proper sleep hygiene.

“R” is for routine. In my mind, a routine is the most important part of sleep hygiene. The brain likes routines and certain triggers train the brain to shut down for sleep. For teenagers, it may start with a snack. The snack should be non-sugary with protein and complex carbohydrates. Then, they brush their teeth and head to bed. For younger children, it could be a snack, brush their teeth, read a (soothing) book, and then bed. Regardless of the order, or if you choose a snack or book, it’s important to make it a routine.

“E” is for exercise. Getting active during the day tires the body, and subsequently the mind, to rest all night. Think about how your kids are worn out after a long day of swimming.

“S” is for setting or environment. Getting electronics (television, phones, screens) out of the bedroom is important. These devices are too tempting for kids and stimulate the brain right before bed. Make the room as dark as it can be, to help promote healthy levels of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.

“T” is for timing. Going to bed and waking up the same time every day ensures the routine is adhered to and makes certain that an adequate duration of sleep is maintained. To keep them on track, give your children warnings, like “one hour until bed” or “30 minutes until lights out.”

Some of the biggest battles parents face in their day-to-day life is getting kids to bed or dealing with tired children in the morning. Setting expectations and staying consistent with the routine is key to proper sleep hygiene. Remember that kids dislike inconsistency much more than they dislike rules.

Dr. David Hess is an internal medicine/pediatrics physician and the president & CEO of WVU Medicine Reynolds Memorial Hospital located in Glen Dale.

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