As schools across the country have turned to distance learning during COVID-19, a new opportunity has emerged for children: later school start times – and the chance for more sleep.
Gone are zero-period classes and the need to wake up in the early hours to catch the bus or bike to school. Children now only need to roll out of bed and turn on their computers to start their school day.
But is it still important for children to keep a regimented sleep and wake time schedule? Should they be sleeping in? What about late nights?
UC Davis pediatricians Helaine St. Amant and Jason Lau answered some sleep-related questions.
Q: What are the benefits of later school start times?
A: Later start times have been linked to better overall health and school performance, particularly among teens. Last October, California became the first state in the nation to mandate later school start times for middle and high schools to help teens get the sleep they need.
Q: How many hours should children get for maximum benefits?
A: Several studies indicate that adolescents need the same amount of sleep as pre-adolescents: 8.5-9.5 hours per night. The difference in teens is that the times they more naturally fall asleep and wake up may be closer to 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. The data are pretty convincing that kids of all ages need a routine amount of sleep to facilitate optimal growth and development.
Q: Does it matter when kids are getting to bed if they get 8.5-9.5 hours?
A: The concern is, if you tell teens to go to bed earlier, such as 9 p.m., they may not fall asleep until 11 p.m. That will mean the number of actual sufficient sleep hours will be fewer when they are being awakened at 6 a.m. for school, despite having been in their beds for the nine hours.
Q: Should sleep times be consistent each day? For example, if you go to bed at 11 p.m., should you aim to keep that as your routine?
A: Keep weekends similar to weekdays. With current shelter-in-place orders, the loss of “weekday” routines doesn’t change the importance of keeping sleep times consistent. Some other tips:
- Keep to a regular daily routine. Keep waking times, mealtimes, activity times and bedtimes the same each day to establish that routine.
- Stop screen time at least an hour before bedtime. Exposure to screens, including TV, mobile devices and video games, can delay sleep.
- Encourage quiet activities before bed, such as taking a bath, reading a book or listening to soothing music.
Q: How important is a sleep routine?
A: As many parents try to create a routine for their kids to replace daycare or school, incorporating sleep into the routine is a very important component. Even though kids won’t have to get up at specific times to catch the bus to school, structuring their sleep schedule will help them structure their daily routines.