Are You Hitting Snooze on Back-to-School Sleep Health?

Sleep Recommendations for Children

With the start of August, school is just around the corner. With a little planning, prioritization of sleep, and attention to bedtime routines, the transition back to school can be easier and less stressful for the entire family this year.

First, it’s important to realize the vital role sleep plays in overall health. Sleep is an essential element for a healthy life, and that healthy habit is best established early in childhood. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of the U.S. population is not getting enough sleep. For children who are in the critical years of early development, sleep is even more crucial.

For the first time, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has provided official pediatric sleep duration recommendations. These recommendations provide the optimal sleep duration children should get on a regular basis to promote optimal health. The panel of sleep experts found that children who sleep the recommended hours saw improvement in: attention span, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, as well as mental and physical health. Improved performance at school and better relationships at home are also benefits of good sleep health. Not sleeping within the recommended durations was associated with negative outcomes, such as increased risk-taking behaviors, increased drug use and increased risk of suicide and suicide attempts, particularly in teenagers.

Pediatric Sleep Recommendations

  • Infants 4 to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 
 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 
 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours 
 per 24 hours
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours 
 per 24 hours

What Can Families Do?
For families looking to improve their sleep health, setting good habits in motion one to two weeks before the first day of school can help everyone make the transition to the school year smoothly.

For children, bedtime routines should be approximately 10-15 minutes long, with the same activities done in the same order every night. It is recommended that all children have a set bedtime routine to help the brain wind down and transition to sleep. The routine should be individualized for each child. Additionally, children need set bedtimes and perhaps, even more importantly, set wake-up times every day of the week, including weekends. It is important for the parent to set the non-negotiable routine and stick with it each evening.

For adults, making the bedroom and evening routine conducive for sleep is also important. In the bedroom, reducing external noises and distractions, limiting light, setting a cooler temperature (65-72°F) and keeping the clock out of sight (to avoid clock watching) can all be helpful. It is recommended to avoid caffeine, nicotine and heavy meals before bed. Regular exercise is important and can improve sleep. The AASM recommend that adults get at least seven hours of sleep, preferably more, on a regular basis for optimal health.

Many people use electronics up until the time they go to sleep. Based on recent research, the blue wavelength of light from any screen can delay the production of melatonin (the chemical our brain naturally makes to help us feel sleepy). Ideally, it is recommended to turn off all screens one hour before bedtime. However, for those who must use a device with a screen late into the evening, blue light blocking glasses can be purchased and worn for the last hour before bedtime. Additionally, blue light blocking apps can be downloaded to screens for the last one hour before bedtime.

If you are concerned that you or your child is sleeping too little or too much, we encourage you to discuss this with your primary care doctor or seek out an evaluation and treatment plan from a board certified sleep specialist. Common, treatable sleep disorders include snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy. Furthermore, treatments are available for nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking and growing pains in children.

The Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital provides comprehensive services related to the diagnosis and treatment of all 75 sleep disorders and offers a team of experts committed to treating sleep problems in patients of all ages, from newborns to adults. For more information, call 314.205.6030 or visit STLukes-stl.com.

Shalini Paruthi, MD is the medical co-director of the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital