NJ kids’ sleep schedules need adjustment before back-to-school
As the summer dawned, New Jersey 101.5 examined the impact of increased daylight, and vacations from school, on the sleep patterns of both adults and children in the Garden State.
Now in mid-August, thoughts are turning to back-to-school preparations, and getting back into a school year sleep routine is on that to-do list.
It's easier in many ways for younger children than teenagers, according to Dr. Matthew Scharf, assistant professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the medical director of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Sleep Laboratory.
Scharf said age is a "huge, huge factor," and that in a general sense, kids never want to go to bed, but the September transition is smoother for elementary schoolers.
"I think that often there's less of an adjustment, because I think that they often maintain sort of a schedule," he said. "Their natural schedule tends to be more in line with what the school schedule would be."
Speaking of school schedules, legislation at the state level to restrict high schools from beginning their instructional day earlier than 8:30 a.m. has stalled.
The New Jersey School Boards Association is instead advocating for that choice to be left up to individual districts.
Scharf said there is evidence that later start times work for older kids, whose Circadian rhythm gets thrown off by a lack of structure, and who may not listen to advice about training themselves now for sleep during the academic year.
"For some kids it might be just as simple as, they're falling asleep in the middle of the day, they're taking a nap and then they're staying up really late, so sometimes maybe eliminating that may be helpful," he said. "Teenagers are not known, necessarily, for their listening to their parents skills. So that is often a challenge."
Younger kids who aren't "fighting biology" as much, as Scharf puts it, could be swayed by their parents with the promise of a special breakfast the next day, or some other sort of prize.
"Try to use whatever sort of enticements that you can in order to do that," Scharf said. "I think for a lot of kids, a motivating thing is just excitement about something in the morning."
If a child's sleeping habits don't settle in and continue to be out of the ordinary once the school year has gotten underway, the issue may be more medical in nature.
In that case, Scharf said, contact your child's pediatrician.