To get your young scholar off to a good start this school year, it’s important to make sure he or she is well rested when the bell sounds, according to Reeba Mathew, M.D., a sleep expert with McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas of Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
“The research clearly shows that well-rested students score higher on tests,” says Mathew, who sees patients at UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School. “Conversely students who don’t get enough sleep have lower scores.”
Along with comparing the test results of children with various amounts of sleep, researchers have studied brain activity and found abnormally regulated brain activity in sleep-deprived students, she says.
With the start of school just weeks away, it is time for parents to put the genie back in the bottle and start weaning vacationing students off their late nights, smartphone games and videos.
“Luckily, there are steps parents can take to make sure their children don’t sleep through the first days of school. The earlier you start the better,” says Mathew, a mother of two.
How much sleep your child needs depends on his or her age. For example, preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours a night. Between the ages of 6 and 12, children need 9 to 10 hours. As a rule, teenagers need 8 to 9 hours. Once they are 18 years of age or older, 7 to 8 hours will suffice.
These tips will help position your child for academic success.
- Start rolling back the sleep times at least a week before school starts. Inch back their sleep times by 15 minutes or so a day until you reach the ideal time. “If you don’t, the change will be too much of a shock to their system,” Mathew says.
- Get them up earlier, too. If they go to sleep 15 minutes earlier at night, they need to get up by that same amount in the morning. It is a two-pronged approach.
- Have regularly scheduled meals. Routines are a big part of academic success and the dinner table is a good place to start. Get off the sofa and gather everyone around the table.
- Set goals for the school year. Bedtimes, homework assignments and extracurricular activities are all critical to academic success.
- Close to bedtime, turn off any device you can watch. That means smartphones, tablets, television sets — you name it. About half of all grade-school students have a TV in their bedroom. Parents might not be aware that the blue light devices emit causes sleeplessness.
- Steer clear of caffeinated beverages. Caffeine stays in the bloodstream longer than you think and about 40 percent of children have at least one caffeinated drink a day. No sodas or iced coffees after 3 p.m. They should not consume energy drinks at any time.
- Stay firm. As a parent, your job is to keep your child focused on school. It may require effort but the payoff is huge.
Not limited to better grades, a good night’s sleep goes a long way to reducing the risk of depression, anxiety and psychosocial dysfunction, Mathew says. “It is a win, win.”