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Four steps to great sleep for your school-age child or teen

Andrew Hong, MD

One of the most important things you can do to help your child do well in school is also one of the simplest: Make sure they get enough sleep.

School performance and sleep are closely linked. Children and teenagers who go to bed earlier and sleep more earn higher grades and score better on tests. They also have more energy and better concentration and social skills.

If you’re ready to improve your kid’s sleep, follow these four steps:

  1. Determine how much sleep your child needs. Most 6- to 13-year-olds need 9 to 11 hours of sleep every night, while 14- to 18-year-olds need 8 to 10 hours. However, these are just guidelines. Every child is unique. Evaluate your child’s mood and how they function during the day, and look at naps and how much catch-up sleep occurs on the weekends to determine their optimal amount of rest.
  2. Create a comfortable sleep environment. Bedrooms should be dark and quiet. Pets can make it harder for kids to fall asleep and can wake them up after they’ve dozed off, so remove animals from the room. A fan or white-noise machine can help block out noise.
  3. Relax with kids before bedtime. Parents often choose to do story time with their young children before bed—and for good reason. Quiet reading, warm baths, and snuggles are all things that help many children wind down for the night. Encourage teenagers to avoid playing on their phones or watching TV. Light emitted from screens mimics sunlight and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  4. Help them stick to a sleep schedule. It’s important to have a consistent bedtime and wakeup time. Exposure to morning light helps determine our circadian rhythm and what time we get tired and want to go sleep at night. Getting up at the same time every day is particularly important. Sleeping in and taking naps in the afternoon propagates an uneven—and less restful—schedule.

If your child or teenager is having trouble sleeping, call their doctor instead of heading to the nearest pharmacy. While drugs like melatonin might sound like easy, natural solutions, they can have side effects and need to be taken under the direction of a physician.

Your doctor can help you determine if your child or teen is suffering from a sleep disorder and work with you on treatment options. Sleep issues can often be addressed by changing the sleep environment and incorporating relaxation techniques.

By creating a regular sleep schedule, and turning to your doctor when sleep concerns arise, you can help you child or teenager develop the sleep skills they need to do well in school now and in the future.

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Dr. Andrew Hong is a sleep medicine physician at The Vancouver Clinic’s Columbia Tech Center location. He treats both adult and pediatric patients with various sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, parasomnias and restless leg syndrome.