With the last few weeks of summer left, Canadian parents are preparing to send their kids back to school – and getting them in and out of bed on time could be a challenge for some.
Summer holidays tend to throw off children’s schedules and disrupt sleeping patterns, making it harder to get back into the school routine, experts say.
“I think what we see over the summer is everybody loses their routine and especially with regards to sleep,” said Dr. Indra Narang, a sleep physician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
“And it’s not typically just one child, it typically is children and families (that) lose all their habits.”
A majority of teenagers do not get the recommended eight hours of sleep, Narang said.
“The biggest challenge for that group is to get them back into a routine so that they can have sufficient sleep duration, but also quality of sleep to get back on a school routine,” she told Global News in an interview.
Canadian guidelines recommend that children aged five to 13 years should get an uninterrupted nine to 11 hours of sleep per night, whereas teenagers aged 14 to 17 should get eight to 10 hours of snooze time every night.
A recent Sleep Country survey, conducted by Leger, released this week showed that 52 per cent of school-aged children in Canada get eight to nine hours of shut-eye, and 77 per cent of parents believe their kids are getting sufficient sleep.
However, one in four Canadian children are not getting enough sleep, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Leger survey.
“We’re concerned about that group that is not doing that well with their sleep,” said Margaret Eaton, national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
The primary reasons parents cited for their children’s inadequate sleep included staying up too late, the use of electronic devices and inconsistent bedtimes, the survey found.
“Parents really need to place a priority on sleep and bedtime and really make it something that children look forward to,” Eaton said.
What are the risks of less sleep?
A good night’s sleep not only promotes children’s physical health and emotional well-being but also improves their quality of life, according to PHAC.
On the flip side, kids that get insufficient sleep report hyperactivity, stress and poor mental health, the agency says.
Research suggests that sleep deprivation can cause a wide range of health problems, such as hypertension, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and impaired immune functioning.
Kids who don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis are also less likely to reach their maximum academic potential, Narang said, warning about “long-term consequences.”
“Children take their unhealthy sleep habits to adolescence, to adulthood, and then they’re really hard to break,” she added.
Narang called sleep deprivation a “public health crisis” that affects children as well as adults in Canada, which is why raising awareness is key to addressing the problem.
She stressed that the whole family should adopt good sleep hygiene practices.
“I think once parents understand the importance of sleep, they’re more likely to enforce some of the bedtime rules on their children.”
How to build a sleep routine
Canadian parents who were surveyed by Leger reported taking a series of measures to help their children sleep better ahead of the new school year.
These included investing in new pillows, mattresses and beddings, creating a sleep-conducive environment and encouraging children to sleep in their own beds.
Eaton said it is always a good idea to start enforcing a regular bedtime routine a few weeks before schools reopen.
Parents can gradually make the bedtime earlier by 15-minute increments rather than in bigger chunks, Narang said.
No electronics should be allowed in the bedroom and the room should be cool and “essentially boring,” she added.
It’s also important for children to avoid caffeine before bedtime, have a fixed wake-up time and not participate in daytime naps, Narang said.
“Any daytime naps will not only affect the duration of sleep at night, but also your quality of sleep at night.”
And for those who have trouble falling asleep, reading a book, writing in a journal or listening to some music can help.