Better sleep before it's back to school

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Getting Your Kids on Back-to-School Sleep Schedule

By DR. KAREN LATIMER

It is official. The inmates are running the asylum. As the summer draws to an end, all hell has broken loose in my world. My children have turned mad, and have turned on me. I cannot get the sand out of their ears, the green out of their hair or the frenzied exhaustion out of their eyes. Some interesting dialect changes have also taken place. While the word No used to mean No, it now means, "Please keep trying to convince me – oh, and make sure you use a really high, really annoying voice to do so." By the obvious sugar-highs and random extra kids at my breakfast table, I can only surmise that, "Go outside and play!" means "Yes, of course you can have another ice cream and another sleepover." And, I am starting to suspect that "Clean your room," has lost all meaning whatsoever.

I love summer chill mode as much as the next Chardonnay drinker, so all this would be fine – dirty kids, dirty house, etc. -- if it were not for the looming and impassable BACK TO SCHOOL in the near future. It is time to put the wheels back on the wagon and better sleep is at the top of my To Do list.

1. How important is sleep? The short answer is, very important. While scientists are not sure why we are hard-wired to need sleep, common sense says we simply need to rest our systems, decompress and prepare to face another day. We do know what happens without sleep. After one full day of no sleep, you will be irritable and clumsy. After two days, you will have a difficult time thinking and completing tasks. After five days of no sleep, you will start to hallucinate. After a few more days, your brain will not be able to send signals to the rest of your body, which would ultimately be fatal. Not getting enough sleep every night will cause similar, albeit more mild, symptom including problems concentrating, irritability, a general feeling of unwell, and lack of coordination.

2. How much sleep do kids need? While all people are different, researchers have a decent grasp on how much sleep people need to function effectively. Children aged 3-6 require about 10-12 hours of sleep. 7-12 year olds need 10-11 hours. This means if they get up for school at 7, they need to be in bed by 9 at the latest. This is easier said than done.

3. How much sleep do teenagers need? Adolescents need about 8-9 hours of sleep a night to function at their best. But, their circadian rhythms are messed up compared to adults and children. They usually don't feel tired before 11pm, will have a hard time falling asleep and consequently, will be impossible in the morning.

4. How much sleep do adults need? Most experts agree adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep. Less than this can result in immediate consequences such as car accidents, and longer term medical side effects like depression and heart disease.

5. How much sleep is everyone getting? Studies show that practically none of us are getting enough sleep. Children and teens typically have terrible sleep patterns. During the summer months, even if everyone in your family is getting enough sleep, they are probably sleeping at the wrong hours. My kids are in bed at about 10-11 o'clock and up after 8am every morning. Come September, this is not going to cut it.

6. How you can get them back on track. – Start tightening the reins now. Cruise slowly out of summer as opposed to coming to a screeching halt – this will prevent everyone from crashing through the windshield. Little by little start establishing the routines that worked for your children before, whether it be baths, books or stories. Have dinner ready earlier in the evening, get them into their PJs and start the movie earlier. Try to do this in increments. I am not suggesting a strict schedule, but rather that you start being conscious that the summer finish line is in sight. If your kids sleep late in the summer, consider getting them up a little earlier each day – even if it means promising something fun in the morning. Getting up at a more respectable time will help them get to bed in the evening as well.

The first few weeks of school are important ones – not only academically, but socially. It is the time when your child's new teacher will get to know him or her. It will set the stage for how he or she is perceived as a student. It is also an important time to establish friendships. I speak only for myself when I say my children will never be perfect. Still, I want them to be present back at school as their best selves, as opposed to the little creatures who are, at this moment, destroying my house. I gotta go. This has gotten out of control ...

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