Category Archives: Children & Teens

Back to School: How to Help Your Children Get a Good Night’s Sleep

What are some of the issues that parents might face in terms of their children’s sleep when they go back to school?

The biggest issue is late bedtimes and awakenings. Their circadian rhythms have been thrown off, making it more difficult to awaken for school. Lack of a bedtime routine during the summer can be problematic, especially in younger children. In addition, late television watching right up to bedtime is a problem.

What tips would you give to parents looking to re-establish their child’s bedtime routine?

  1. Begin making bedtime and wake time 15 minutes earlier two weeks in advance of school.
  2. Calculate sleep/wake timing knowing how much sleep your child needs. School age children need 9 to 11 hours. Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours according to the most recent National Sleep Foundation recommendations.
  3. Turn off all sources of blue light 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime.
  4. Get the television out of the bedroom, as well as all interactive electronics.
  5. Re-establish a bedtime routine.
  6. Keep a comfortable temperature in the bedroom of 65 to 70 degrees.
  7. Eliminate caffeine consumption of any type, coffee drinks, dark chocolate, and soft drinks.


Do you have any advice for parents who have two children of different ages?

Yes. Be aware that children of different ages require different amounts of sleep. Also, be
aware that two siblings may have different circadian clocks as to when they are comfortable falling asleep and waking up. Within reasonable limits, one size may not fit all.

What would be the optimum bedtime for children getting up for school?

Again, calculate using the National Sleep Foundation guidelines backwards from wake up time required to be up and able to go to school. Observe your child’s alertness upon awakening in the morning. If a 10 year old, with 9 hours of sleep is hard to wake up and cannot get going in the morning, extend sleep time to 10 hours. Try to get this established before school starts.

Should teachers expect children to be sleepy/grumpy when school starts again? Do you have any advice for them?

Yes. In many cases that is true. However, if this continues after a few weeks, it is important for the teacher to bring this to the attention of the parents. There may be an underlying sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or even narcolepsy causing the sleepiness. The earlier these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the better it is for the child’s development. In addition, as I discuss in my book Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day, children with ADHD may present with sleepiness during the day. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that teachers be alert to the sleepy child.

Teens and Sleep–Poor Sleep Hygiene and DSPS

If you are the parent of a teenage boy or girl, you may have noticed a later bedtime has become the norm. Two of the main reasons are a natural circadian shift and the abundance of interactive electronics. In fact, this problem is so important that I devoted a chapter in my book, Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic every Day, to this subject.

During adolescence, up to 10% will develop a circadian shift. It may result in a delay of as much as three hours in sleep and wake time. This is referred to in sleep medicine as Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. Thus, a 10 year old who has no trouble falling asleep at 9 PM and awakening at 7 AM may find that at the age of 14 they cannot fall asleep before midnight and need to sleep until 10 AM. Unfortunately, because of early school start times, they may be getting no more than five to six hours of actual sleep.

This problem falling asleep is compounded, and may be caused by the use of iPads, video games, cell phones, texting in bed, and television. All of these devices emit light in the blue spectrum. Blue light, because of its suppression of melatonin production, further inhibits the ability to fall asleep.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics titled “The Great Sleep Recession: Changes in Sleep Duration Among U.S. Adolescents, 1991-2012”, the authors found that only 60% of teens were getting seven or more hours of sleep each night. That means that 40% of American teenagers are getting well below the eight to ten hours recently recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.

What are the consequences of this lack of sleep? They include physical effects such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, and lowered immunity, as well as an increased propensity to athletic injury. Psychologically, these teenagers are more prone to depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide. Cognitively, they have more trouble focusing, paying attention, and controlling impulses, and thus do poorly in school.

What can a parent do when confronted with this problem? The first measure is to educate your teenager about the importance of sleep with regards to their physical and psychological wellbeing. Another is to remove all blue light emitting electronic devices from the bedroom, starting with the television. Enforce earlier bedtimes and on weekends urge your teenager to stay on the same schedule. Have them expose themselves to bright light upon awakening. Light in the morning actually helps us to fall asleep earlier the next night.

If all else fails, see if you can get a later start time for classes at their school. In addition, you might want to talk to your health care provider about the use of low doses of melatonin one to two hours before the desired bedtime. It, along with early morning light therapy, has been shown in several studies to be quite effective in improving this disorder.

The bottom line is that the earlier this is recognized and addressed, the less likely it is to result in numerous troublesome consequences, many of which end up unnecessarily being treated with antidepressants, sleeping pills, and psychostimulants such as Ritalin. In reality, the answer to these problems was to get more sleep.

A Back-to-School Checklist for Sleep

1. Calculate how much sleep your child needs

Many well-meaning parents have no idea how much sleep their child needs. Preschoolers need 11 to 12 hours. Five to ten-year-olds need 10 to 11 hours and teenagers do best with 9 to 10 hours.

2. Nudge that sleep time forward

Have your child go to bed and wake up 15 minutes earlier each day at least one to two weeks before school starts. This will help realign their circadian clock to school time.

3. Eliminate caffeine

Stop all late afternoon caffeine, including dark chocolate, at least six hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a major stimulant and inhibits sleep.

4. Eat dinner earlier        

During the summertime with longer days and delayed sleep times, we tend to eat later than during the school year. Timing of dinner has a significant effect on our circadian sleep-wake schedule.

5. Establish a bedtime routine

In preschoolers and school age children, this may consist of brushing teeth, taking a bath, and reading a bedtime story. In older children and teens, it may include reading a book or other relaxing activities such as writing, or learning relaxation techniques such as meditation and progressive muscle relaxation.

6. Turn off the blue light

Numerous studies have demonstrated the adverse effects of electronics before bedtime. Eliminate the television from the bedroom. Get the iPads, cell phones, and laptops out of the bedroom. These devices emanate blue light, which shuts down the production of melatonin and inhibits sleep.

7. Stop summertime naps

Many children over the age of six start napping again during the summer. This may be because they are not getting enough sleep. Whatever the cause, if these naps last longer than one hour, they probably will negatively affect your child’s ability to fall and stay asleep.

8. Avoid late night pizza

Since they need to get to bed earlier, avoid foods close to bedtime that adversely influence your child’s sleep. Spicy foods can cause acid reflux and raise body temperatures, both of which inhibit sleep. Cured meats such as salami and pepperoni, and aged cheeses such as parmesan, contain tyramine, which causes the release of the wake-promoting neurotransmitter norepinephrine.

9. Establish the bedroom environment

In addition to removing the electronics, consider the temperature of the bedroom. A drop in temperature is a signal to the brain to enter sleep. Room temperatures of between 62 and 70 degrees seem to be the most conducive to sleep.

10. Set rules and be a model example

A recent survey done by the National Sleep Foundation found that children whose parents set rules as to sleep-wake times and electronic devices in the bedroom, as well as abiding by them, slept longer and better. These children were also more likely to do better in school and far less likely to develop mood and anxiety disorders.