A good night's rest is essential for the physical and mental health of everyone in your family.

The beginning of another school year has started, prompting families to prepare for back-to-school routines, including adjustments to the family’s sleep schedule. A good night’s rest is essential for the physical and mental health of everyone in the family, but getting the appropriate quality and amount of rest is not always an easy task.

Keep in mind that adults require about eight hours of sleep per night, while children require between nine and 12 hours. “Commit to getting the right amount of sleep, as a family,” said Dr. Atul Malhotra, associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Sleep deprivation can have detrimental effects on school and work performance, safety while driving and working, the immune system, cognitive processes, and mood.”

To help the family get back to a healthy sleep schedule, Dr. Malhotra, suggests:

  • Begin the transition from summer sleep schedule to back-to-school sleep schedule before school begins. This change takes some time for adjustment.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule to regulate the body’s sleep cycle. Define bed times and stick to them consistently, and avoid sleeping late on weekends.
  • Dim the lights in the evening as bedtime approaches and avoid night-lights. Light exposure at night can interfere with the body’s natural circadian clock and the biological signal that it is time to sleep. On the other hand, exposure to light during the day helps signal the brain into the right sleep-wake cycle.

  •  Exercise also can support healthy sleep habits. Try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of outdoor physical activity each day, but be sure not to be very active right before intended bedtime, as the body needs time to relax after physical activity before sound sleep can be achieved.
  •  Foods and drinks with caffeine in them, like hot chocolate, tea, coffee, soda, and chocolate can interfere with sleep. Caffeine can stay in the body for a long time; even caffeine consumed in the afternoon can disrupt the sleep cycle that night.
  • Bedtime routines should include at least 15 to 30 minutes of calm, quiet, soothing activities, such as reading. Reading to children before bed may be beneficial to achieving a better night’s sleep.
  • Talk or write about any thoughts, stresses, or concerns. By discussing the issue with someone, or getting it down on paper, the mind is alleviated, making it easier to fall asleep.
  • Make sure the room is not too warm or too cold, as extreme temperatures hinder the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. For most people, a cool room (somewhere around 65 degrees Fahrenheit) is optimal.
  • No toys allowed in bed. Toys can distract attention and make falling asleep more difficult. Remove all toys from the bed and turn off any electronic devices.
  • Limit time spent in front of the TV or computer close to bedtime.  Remove the TV and computer from the bedroom. Watching TV in bed may contribute to sleep problems, especially for children.
  • Avoid homework right before bedtime. Studying or doing written homework right before bedtime does not allow the necessary time to relax before falling asleep.

Visit the health information section on the Brigham and Women’s Hospital website for more information about getting a good night’s sleep.

How do you and your family make the transition from relaxed summer routines to busier, more structured school time schedules?

– Lori S

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