Sleep routines provide better rest, grades for students: expert
Published Monday, September 7, 2015 3:25PM CST Last Updated Monday, September 7, 2015 5:52PM CST
Kids across Canada are making the switch this week from summer nights to school days.
At the Loewen house, it’s no exception. All three children, ranging from preschool to grade four, are heading back to class starting Thursday.
“Summer is really relaxed for us... there's no agenda, there's no need to be up at a certain time,” said dad, Gary Loewen. “When there's school, there's a routine; there's a time when we have to get up."
It’s a shift in schedule that can have profound effects on the way students learn.
"Research has shown that if you're missing even an hour of sleep for kids, it really reduces at the grade level they're learning at,” said Joleen Dilk Salyn, pediatric sleep consultant with Baby Sleep 101.
Salyn said the best start to better sleep practices is creating and maintaining a familiar wind-down routine. She recommends doing something calming, such as reading, to help children relax before bed.
"If you do that every single night, it really starts to send a signal to the brain and it triggers a response to just settle down easy,” said Salyn.
Next, parents should assess bedtime hours keeping in mind elementary school-age children need between 10-12 hours sleep a night. Salyn said it’s biologically-appropriate for kids to wake up early, so an earlier bedtime can make the difference with some added benefits.
“There's more cycles of non-REM sleep, which is really restorative for our bodies, in the first half of the night-time sleep,” said Salyn. “If we are putting bedtime a little too late, we are missing the potential for a lot of those cycles of sleep.”
A nighttime routine also needs some consideration during the day, said Salyn.
She recommends parents monitor their child’s caffeine intake as even small amounts, hours earlier, can have a lasting effect. Additionally, after-school activities should also be taken into account when it comes to giving kids time to wind down.
As for teenagers, science makes bedtime a different story.
"It's a little different with teenagers because the chronotype of how they're falling asleep actually shifts and they will want to sleep in and stay up late and that's biologically just what happens with their bodies,” said Salyn.
What can help teens, said Salyn, is shutting off electronic devices 60 to 90 minutes before bed.
“The light that is emitted from that really suppresses our melatonin, which is our sleep hormone. So you're kind of countering what your body naturally wants to do," she said.
The sleep consultant said parents can also reap the benefits of a better night’s sleep with reduced time on mobile devices at night, and a wind-down routine of their own.