BACK-TO-SCHOOL HABITS It's time to adjust sleep schedules
Children younger than 10 need about 10 hours of sleep every night.
By MARY MEEHAN
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Studies show that Americans as a whole are routinely sleep-deprived. In children, a lack of sleep can impair their ability to learn, retain information, even form memories.
The brain needs rest to sift through the events of the day, organize memories and make sense of all the information that it has taken in, said Dr. David Hiestand, pediatric sleep specialist with The Sleep Center at Lexington's Samaritan Hospital.
A good rule of thumb is that anyone younger than 10 needs about 10 hours of sleep, Hiestand said. Children older than 10 should average nine hours.
And all children, even older ones, need a schedule.
Many television commercials and Lifetime movies show that perfect Hallmark moment when sleepy kids tucked under their covers fall into a deep sleep with lullabies winging through the air as moonlight filters through the bedroom curtains, but real life is a little different.
Not that easy
Parents, and anybody who has ever watched those nanny shows on television, know that getting kids tucked away isn't always pretty.
For kids, talking about their day, getting a drink of water, calling Granny and rearranging the shoes in their closet take on the utmost importance at the moment the lights should be turned out.
Becky Edwins, a Lexington, Ky., mother of two, learned the hard way that she needs to help her kids get on a schedule before school starts. When her oldest daughter, who is now entering high school, started kindergarten, they started cold turkey. The next year, they started adjusting sleep schedules a week before classes begin. Now, with two children, she starts two weeks out and adjusts bedtimes 30 minutes every three days or so.
It's not always easy to get them to sleep when other kids in the neighborhood are still playing outside, she said.
Every child is different, but a week should be enough time to get your child used to a new sleep schedule, Hiestand said. And it's important for families to come up with a bedtime routine. Take a bath, read a book, give hugs -- whatever works.
The key is that whether it's Mom, Dad, Grandma or Uncle Frank doing the tucking in, the event is more or less the same and the activities surrounding it should be calming, not stimulating.
And weekend bedtimes should be only about an hour later than during the week, Hiestand said.
Young children often have excuses for not sleeping, but the children will respond to firm, fair and consistent rules.
If children sleepwalk or sleep-talk, Hiestand said, it's best just to guide them back to bed without waking them.
Older children, especially teens, can be more of a challenge. Part of the problem is what Hiestand calls delayed sleep phase syndrome. The internal clock in an adolescent body is naturally pushing forward, wanting to stay up later. That, coupled with a teen's desire to listen to music, talk on the phone, cruise the Internet or watch television, is a powerful incentive not to sleep.
Unfortunately, their bodies still crave that nine hours of sleep. Hiestand said it's easier to keep pushing the sleep time forward than back. Moving backward, forcing the body to go to bed earlier, is more difficult, he said, but it's possible.
Parents might be suffering through their own transition as kids get read to go back to school.
Edwins said it always takes her a little time to get used to her family's new schedule.
"I love summer," she said. "It's gone too quick."