Sleep & Summer Routines w/ Dr. Anne Tofte

Sleep is important because a lot happens during sleep that our bodies rely on. For kids, in particular, a lot of the learning that they do during the day gets imprinted in their brain and new pathways develop. Sleep is important for your immune system to function properly. A lack of sleep can really affect kids moods, their ability to concentrate in school, their physical health and their immune system. Whenever I have parents that tell me that their kids are just really emotionally labile, I really want to pay attention to how much sleep they're getting. Oftentimes those kids just need a little bit more sleep.

The amount of sleep the child needs depends on their age and there can be a range within that age. Typically preschoolers need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep. Elementary school kids are closer to 9 to 11 hours of sleep. And high school kids probably need a little bit less, but still need a lot more than kids are typically getting, between 8 to 10 hours of sleep.

To help your child develop good sleep patterns, I usually recommend looking at what time they need to wake up in the morning and then counting backwards. And really pay attention to that hour before they go to sleep as a time where they are going to wind down and focus on getting ready for sleep. Your body doesn't just automatically fall asleep. I think most adults realize that. Your body relies on the light levels in your environment to produce melatonin and that's your body’s signal that it is time to sleep. So really pay attention to that hour before bedtime and keep the lights lower.

Avoid screens in general for kids. Bathing can also be helpful for some kids. Or reading or being read to can be very helpful. All in all, having more of a quiet consistent routine at that time is really important.

It's pretty common for kids to have a later bedtime during the summer and a lot of that depends on what time they have to get up and moving in the morning. If you have a child that wakes up pretty early in the morning, you still want to be very consistent with bedtime. Even in the summer, routines are important.

Getting kids back to a regular bedtime in the fall can take a little bit of planning. You probably want to have them start going to bed about 15 minutes earlier per night. Depending on how long or how many adjustments you have to make, maybe do that for the week before they go back to school.

Just like bedtime routines are important, I think routines during the day can be very helpful. It's really important that kids get physical activity. That can help them have more consistent sleep at night. A healthy diet is important for older kids that have a tendency to sleep in or maybe sleep most of the day away. Sometimes having an activity or responsibility or job that starts mid-morning can be really helpful to get them up and moving, knowing that the normal sleep pattern for teenagers typically is later at night into the mid-morning. That's probably when they are getting their best sleep so it's not all bad that they are sleeping in a little bit.

A lot of parents will ask me about melatonin supplements for their kids and historically I would say that that is probably something to try and it still might be helpful to try to get kids to reset their bedtime routines. But it is still a hormone and some of the newer research is suggesting that it can affect the development of children's hormonal systems and so I think you have to be careful about it and really only use it as a temporary measure while you are really trying to get some of these other schedules and routines in place.

Working on breathing exercises with kids during the day can give them some tools to help them relax at night. That can be a very powerful tool for helping kids rely on themselves for getting relaxed. I'm ready for bed.