Monday Medical: Back to school, back to sleep |

Monday Medical: Back to school, back to sleep

The long, lazy days of summer are coming to an end, which means parents might face one of the biggest challenges of the year: getting their kids to go to bed on time. But, the work is worth it.

“Sleep can affect everything,” said Patrick Grathwohl, a pediatrician in Steamboat Springs. “If you’re not getting adequate sleep, it’s going to affect a lot of the activities of daily life. Twenty to 30 percent of children in cross-sectional studies have significant bedtime problems or night waking.”

Following are Grathwohl’s recommendations for helping ensure children get enough sleep.
Create a sleep schedule. Stick to the same bedtime and wakeup time through the week, even on weekends.

“It’s pretty important, especially if someone’s struggling with their sleep,” Grathwohl said. “If they can get on a regular sleep schedule, the quality of sleep generally improves.”

Find a bedtime routine. A bedtime routine can help children wind down and prepare for sleep. Reading is always a good option, while younger children might bathe, put on pajamas and listen to stories.

Avoid screens before bedtime. At least 30 minutes before falling asleep, screens should be shut down and tucked away.

“Any time you’re watching a screen, your brain is going a thousand miles an hour to keep up, and it takes awhile to come down from that,” Grathwohl said. “Even if people watch TV until they fall asleep, it still takes their brain a while to rev down and enter a normal sleep pattern.”

Keep tabs on naps. Naps can be restorative, but they can wreak havoc on bedtime. For infants and young children, naps shouldn’t come too late in the day. For adolescents and teenagers, naps should be 30 minutes or less and end four hours before bedtime.

Exercise daily. Vigorous cardiovascular exercise for at least 30 minutes per day promotes good health inproves sleep.

Keep your room quiet and cool. Minimize light and noise, and keep temperatures at 60 to 70 degrees. White noise may help some children.

Don’t just lie in bed. For children having a hard time falling asleep, if they are lying in bed unable to sleep, it may be best to get out of bed and do something quiet until they’re feeling relaxed and drowsy.

“Beds should only be used for sleep,” Grathwohl said, “not for watching TV or doing homework. We want your body to associate the bed with sleeping.”

Log the right amount. How much sleep children need depends on their age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following daily sleep amounts.

  • Infants age 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours, including naps.
  • Toddlers age 1 to 2: 11 to 14 hours, including naps.
  • Children age 3 to 5: 10 to 13 hours, including naps.
  • Children age 6 to 12: nine to 12 hours.
  • Teenagers: eight to 12 hours.

Grathwohl stressed that the guidelines are only that: guidelines.

“Every child is different. Some need more sleep, and some require less,” he said. “You’ve got to tailor it to the specific child.”

Ease into the school routine. Going back to school and waking up earlier can be a shock to the system.

“If you can start shifting that sleep schedule earlier, it’s a little bit easier,” Grathwohl said. “It’s better to move a bedtime back in 15 to 20 minute increments, if you can.”

If your child struggles with sleep, don’t hesitate to reach out to your medical provider, and remember, there’s not one easy solution for getting a good night’s rest.

“There’s no magic bullet. You have to figure out what works well for you and your family and go from there,” Grathwohl said. “And you know kids – once you think you’ve figured it out, they throw you a curve ball.”

 Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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