HOUSTON – The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted routines in many areas of life, including when we normally go to bed and wake up. Like adults who are working from home, it is important for students who are heading back to school to set a routine sleep schedule even when their classes are online, according to a sleep medicine expert at Baylor College of Medicine.
“Kids returning to school is going to put them on some kind of schedule whether it is school at home or actually going into a classroom,” said Dr. Philip Alapat, assistant professor of sleep medicine at Baylor. “With the expectation that some degree of in-person schooling is going to be present, there is going to be a need to maintain some degree of a regular schedule.”
Whether your child is returning to school in person, virtually or a hybrid of both, setting healthy sleep habits will assist in improved school performance and overall health:
Know the recommended hours of sleep
Alapat said it is first essential to ensure that students are getting the appropriate amount of sleep at night for their age:
- Ages 3-5: 10-13 hours.
- Ages 6-13: 9-11 hours.
- Ages 14-17: 8-10 hours.
He warns that sleep deprivation has been linked to poor performance, mood changes and even car accidents for those who drive.
Establish a routine sleep schedule
Although quarantine has thrown off normal sleep schedules for many, students should keep a fixed bedtime and wakeup time for school. Sleeping in during the weekend or if they have later classes online can make it difficult to fall asleep or wake up earlier when necessary, Alapat said.
“Keeping the same schedule every day is more reasonable,” Alapat said. “If you jump back and forth by waking up at 6:30 a.m. one day and then at 8:30 a.m. the next day, it can translate to more daytime sleepiness, which can lead to poor school performance. Maintaining focus during long virtual class sessions is difficult, and a sleep-deprived state can worsen that focus.”
Shift the new wakeup time in 15-minute increments
Since it can be challenging to set a new sleep schedule after the summer break, Alapat recommends slowly increasing the wakeup time by setting an alarm earlier by 15 minutes each day. This is best done about one to two weeks before school begins until the goal wakeup time is reached.
“When you move the wakeup time earlier by 15 minutes each day, you allow your body to adjust,” Alapat said. “You still want to ensure that the adequate amount of sleep is reached, so if a child needs 8 hours of sleep, then you need to count back 8 hours so that the bedtime is at the appropriate time to allow for the proper amount of sleep.”
Avoid naps and caffeine in the afternoon
Late-afternoon naps and indulging in caffeinated beverages like soda and energy drinks in the evening can impair the sleep quality, especially when trying to go to bed at a reasonable time, Alapat said.
“Avoiding unintended daytime sleep and late afternoon naps will help facilitate your body being able to fall asleep at night,” he said.
Limit screen time
It is tempting for kids to watch television or be on their phones before bedtime, but this can keep the mind active and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Alapat recommends that parents assist their kids to wind down without screen time for at least 30 minutes before bedtime in a cool, dark and quiet environment.
Set an example
Alapat adds that it is just as important for parents to work on keeping a regular sleep schedule.
“It is not just the kids but it’s also all of us who are working from home,” Alapat said. “This unusual scheduling can promote an irregular sleep schedule for parents, which can make it difficult when trying to get kids onto a regular schedule.”
Promoting healthy sleep habits for kids will assist in their transition from the summer break into the new school year.