School Dayzzzzzz

Dear Mr. Dad: My 12-year-old daughter spent most of the summer at various camps and came back just before school started. While she was away she was allowed to stay up as late as she wanted. Now that she’s home she’s insisting that she’s old enough to stay up late. I’m sure that it’s unhealthy for her to get so little sleep, but I don’t know how to get her back on track. Do you have any tips for me?

A: Bottom line, your daughter couldn’t be more wrong. Sleep is important. Period. And not just for little kids. She might have spent the summer staying up late, but now that she’s back in school, it’s essential that she get back into a healthy sleep routine.

It’s not just her health, her mood, or her complexion that will take a hit if she keeps staying up late. Her grades will suffer too. According to the National Sleep Foundation some 25 percent of students fall asleep in class. And even if your daughter manages to stay awake through the dullest of subjects, being sleep deprived makes it hard to focus and concentrate, which means that she’ll still be missing key information.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to remedy the situation, but before you get started, take a close look at your own sleep habits. Are you and your spouse setting a good example for your child? Or are you staying up way too late every night and relying on coffee to get you through the day? Kids aren’t the only ones who perform better when well rested.

Getting your child back on track to a good night’s sleep is a gradual process.

  • As hard as it might be, reduce media-related activities, computer games, texting, chatting, IMing, and so on, at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Make sure she turns off her phone and computer at night. A recent study conducted in Belgium found that late night texting and emailing is affecting the sleep cycles of 44 percent of Belgian 16-year-olds. It’s a pretty safe bet that American teens are also getting up a few times in the middle of the night to answer texts and emails.
  • Turn down the lights everywhere in the house an hour before turning in. Darkness (or at least dimness) signals the mind and mind to get ready for sleep. At the same time, turn down or turn off the lights in the bedrooms. People get more restful and restorative sleep in a dark room.
  • Just like when your child was a baby, consistency and routine are key. A regular sleep schedule is important. So even if your daughter begs you to stay up late on the weekends, getting enough sleep is a health and safety issue and, therefore, not negotiable.

One more thing to keep in mind. School children have an added obstacle keeping them from a reasonable bed time: homework. And as the kids get older, the work load increases. Help your child pace and organize herself so that she doesn’t start her work too late in the day. You might need to help her prioritize after school activities so she reaches a healthy balance that allows her to do the things she needs to do, the things she loves to do, and still get enough sleep. And again, don’t forget about setting a good example. If your daughter sees how much you and your spouse value sleep, she’ll be more likely to follow suit. Plus, you may very well boost your own performance—at work and at home!