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Helping Children Develop Healthy Sleeping Habits

child sleep

It’s normal for kids to sleep in during their summer break and many students shift their sleep schedules significantly. Craig Canapari, MD, director of the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital Pediatric Sleep Center, said there’s time to change those patterns before the start of the new school year.

There are several reasons why kids are staying up later. During the summer, the days are longer and natural light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that signals it’s time for sleep. On top of that, schedules are more relaxed during the summer months.

Many kids also spend plenty of time on their phones, tablets and gaming consoles. The blue light from screens suppress melatonin, impacting sleep patterns and social media platforms entice users to stay connected.

“If you think about how these platforms work, you’re always tempted to just scroll a little bit more, maybe watch one more story. If you’re on TikTok, it keeps streaming the next video,” Dr. Canapari said.

If kids are staying up late they can become sleep deprived. Different stages of sleep are responsible for different types of learning.

For example, REM sleep, which happens predominantly in the second half of the night, is linked to memory, and a child’s ability to process what they’ve learned during the day. Teens who are sleep deprived are also more prone to anxiety and mood issues.

Helping Kids Sleep

Dr. Canapari said there are two times during the day when parents can help improve their child’s sleep schedules: bedtime and wake time. For nighttime, he encourages families to talk about the importance of sleep, and the impact electronics can have. If parents want to set limits on screen time, they should set a good example.

“If you’re sitting, scrolling through Twitter anxiously at nighttime in your bedroom, your kids are going to look at you and say, ‘Well, you’re doing it,’ and they’re not wrong. For your sleep, reducing that will be helpful as well,” Dr. Canapari said.

If kids needs to use a laptop or tablet for school work, blue blocking glasses can help reduce that light. Kids should also avoid snacking at night, which can be a signal to the body it’s time to wake up.

In the morning, use the natural sunlight to your advantage. Open the blinds and encourage kids to get outside earlier in the day. While kids don’t need to wake up at 6 a.m. before the new school year starts, waking up earlier and going for a walk or bike ride can help them adjust.

Recommended Sleep Schedules

tired kids

Try to keep kids' sleep schedules relatively stable for the new school year. On days when they’re home, teens can sleep in up to two hours later than they would on a regular school day. But any more than that can impact their sleep patterns.

Overall, teens should get between eight and nine hours of sleep per night. Middle school aged kids need between nine and 11 hours of sleep, kids under 10 need around 10 hours of sleep and preschoolers need between 11 and 12 hours of sleep.

Dr. Canapari said parents shouldn’t expect perfection. Instead, they should strive to improve sleep schedules gradually, because even an extra 30 minutes of sleep can have a positive impact on students.

“Sleep is like eating and breathing. It’s critical for functioning and if you explain this to your child in language that they understand, you’re going to have a much greater chance of succeeding,” Dr. Canapari said.

If your child is struggling to wake up in the morning, participate in family activities, or is dealing with a lot of anxiety, consult your pediatrician. If it’s determined that your child needs a sleep study, we offer them in Greenwich, Bridgeport and New Haven.