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Hitting the sheets: Tips to get your child's sleep schedule back on track for school year

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Posted at 2:00 PM, Sep 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-02 07:06:37-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - From structure-less summers to the pandemic, your child’s sleep schedule may be all over the place as they head into the school year.

"It has really thrown things into chaos - not just for us, for our kids," said Dr. Michael Strunc, medical director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Medicine at CHKD.

Strunc says now is the time to get your child back on track, especially since they will likely be learning virtually.

"They are going to be in front of a computer hours and hours in a day," he said. "One of the things when you get on the bus and go to school and walk to class and lunch, those are activities to keep your brain alert and engaged."

Strunc has developed a two week sleep plan or contract for parents to use. He says first figure out the amount of sleep your child needs. That can vary from seven to 12 hours depending on age.

Here are his tips for success:

  • Thirty minutes before going to sleep, turn off all technology, such as smart phones, tablets, TVs, computers and video games.
  • Allow your child 15 to 20 minutes to brush their teeth, put on their PJs, and say goodnight.
  • Turn on a night light, but no other light source.
  • Get some white noise going, something that’s monotonous. No singing, talking or vocal music. Think of the sound of an old box fan.
  • Don’t use a clock that you can see in the dark, including cell phones. Turn cell phones off, or at least to silent mode.
  • Have something for your child to read in bed if sleep does not come easily or quickly. But remember, this should be an actual book with pages. No Kindles, electronic tablets, or cellphones. The reading material shouldn’t be schoolwork, and it shouldn’t be stimulating. The goal is a benign activity that allows sleep to arrive sooner.
  • If your child falls asleep, but then wakes up, they should stay in bed and read again until they’re back to sleep.
  • Encourage your child to do their best not to worry about things when they’re trying to sleep. Stress in any form is the enemy of sleep. Talking about stressful issues with a counselor can be very useful. Treatment for mood issues is sometimes worthwhile or necessary.

Then set a time for getting up, play some music, turn on the lights, exercise, shower and get your brain ready for activity. Strunc says in the two week period, don’t let your child take any naps.

"If you build that structure including sleep you will do better with sleep and function better during the day," he said.

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