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Published: Sunday, 8/8/2004

No more late nights: Get kids back on school schedule

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Summer ends this week at the Bunde home in Perrysburg: Beth goes back to work as a guidance counselor at Anthony Wayne High School, and bedtimes start to edge earlier for her young son and daughter.

Weeks before classes begin, they're getting into the school-year groove.

"In the summer it's so easy to let the kids stay up later and sleep later in the morning," Mrs. Bunde observes. "As we get nearer to [the start of school], it's important to get bedtime a little closer to the normal time."

So starting this week she'll call Logan, 6, and Morgan, 4, in from playing earlier, get them into the bathtub earlier, settle them by reading a book, and try to convince them that it's bedtime even though it's still light outside. "I try to get it to 9:30 the first few days, then 9 o'clock, and the week before school starts we'll be on an 8:30 bedtime," she says.

As an educator, Mrs. Bunde knows how important it is for school children to be well-rested. Being alert is one of the keys to learning, she says.

"I taught before I became a counselor, and you could just tell when kids weren't there mentally," Mrs. Bunde says. A sleepy child droops onto the desk, isn't as eager to volunteer, and doesn't always follow along or pay attention in class; teens fall sound asleep in study hall.

She believes that a regular schedule does more than help children get enough rest: its predictability also gives them a sense of security. I think that calms kids, especially in the first few weeks when they may have those back-to-school jitters.

Michael Neeb, Ph.D., advises that children in the elementary grades need a minimum of 10 hours of sleep per night, and children in junior high through high school should be getting at least 9 hours.

Mr. Neeb, who is director of the sleep centers at St. Charles Mercy Hospital and St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, and the sleep clinic at Mercy Children s Hospital, says statistics indicate that children get about an hour less each night than they should, creating a sleep debt by the end of the week that they try to make up for by sleeping later on weekend mornings.

That, in turn, disturbs the body s underlying rhythms that control sleep-and-wake cycles, he adds. And that s what happens on a larger scale during the lazy days and nights of summer.

It doesn t take a child long to shift into a new schedule, he says. Usually within a week after school closes, they re going to bed later and rising later. Trouble is, it s harder to reverse the process.

Mr. Neeb suggests that parents get started on it three weeks before school opens. Begin by getting the kids up earlier: Otherwise they won t be sleepy at night and you won t make much headway, he points out.

Scheduling an early-morning activity for your child camp, swimming or tennis lessons, for example may help at this time. Opening curtains or blinds to get light into the bedroom also will stimulate the awakening response, he says.

Be prepared to keep them active, and don t let them nap. Steel yourself to cope with tired, cranky kids for a couple days. You want to create a temporary state of sleep deprivation so they get to sleep earlier the storm before the calm, I guess, he says.

Every night not just during this process of schedule correction allow an hour for a pre-bedtime ritual that will give the kids time to unwind. The prep time would include such activities as taking a shower, eating a snack, brushing teeth, and reading a book all those things that help us relax, to come down physically from the tension and arousal of the day and signal our body that it s time to go to sleep, Mr. Neeb continues.

By the time their little heads sink into the pillow, children should be ready to drift off easily into slumber.

Next morning, getting them out of bed should be a fairly simple matter.

It shouldn t be that difficult to wake somebody up in the morning if in fact they ve gotten good sleep the night before, Mr. Neeb says.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.comor 419-724-6126.



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