While the back-to-school focus may tend toward getting the hottest new backpack or even learning to tie shoes, there’s a much more critical aspect to remember as the school year approaches for our youngest students — sleep. A new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics associates rising kindergarteners getting at least 10 hours of sleep per night with a more successful transition to kindergarten.
The AAP studied multiple sleep indicators across 221 families, and found that the most likely indicator of success was the consistency of a sleep schedule that included those 10 essential hours or more. Getting enough sleep helped kindergarteners in the study transition into a school schedule, specifically through “socio-emotional, learning engagement, and academic” indicators.
However, data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that just over 2 of 3 children, ages 4 months to 14 years, get enough sleep.
Pediatrician Whitney Casares, MD, MPH, FAAP, the founder and CEO of the Modern Mamas Club, calls kindergartener (and other young children’s) lack of sleep a “huge, widespread problem,” and connects it to screen use inching further and further past bedtime. She doesn’t blame parents, who are struggling to fit in all their tasks often with both parents working, then having to deal with dinner and homework, and preparing for the next day, but says it’s extremely important to focus on.
“They’re making such a huge transition from being maybe in a couple of days a week pre-K program, or maybe even just at home to being fully at school from early morning to mid-afternoon. And so the kindergarten teachers have always stressed when you’re there at orientation, how really important it is that they get a full night of sleep…,” she says. “I think that sometimes as parents, we’re coming off to summer and especially this summer where people feel like they’ve just been let out of the house [after pandemic restrictions]. It matters a ton as they’re going to be doing a lot of learning and have to do a lot of intense social interactions. That’s the bigger task of kindergarten.”
She adds that parents are always looking for that “golden ticket” on something that will truly help their student be stronger academically and better behaved, and that this just might be it. “Sleep is probably even more important than all those [other considerations].”
Alanna McGinn, CEO, founder, and sleep consultant of Good Night Sleep Site says it’s essential to start preparing kindergarteners much before the first full day of school is here.
“Start with communicating the importance of sleep. Don’t just tell your child that they need to sleep. Explain to them why they need to sleep,” she suggests. “Why is sleep important for them? How do they feel when they’ve had a good night of sleep? How do mom and dad feel when they have slept through the night? Praise and communicate when they have let you sleep through the night. They want to please us and will continue to try and do so when they see how proud you are of them.”
She also suggests eliminating any daytime sleeping slowly as the first school day nears, so that they are used to being up all day if they happen to still be a napper. Instead, replace naps with quiet time so they can still rest. Finally, when school does start, move bedtime up to 30 minutes earlier than normal for a week to see best results. “Falling asleep is much harder when kids go to bed overtired – and it also contributes to the nightly battles,” she adds.
Sleep and back to school anxiety also go hand in hand, and it’s important to re-emphasize to kids that you are there for them, she reminds parents. “Starting school, friends, changes in their lives and even scary thoughts can give kids anxiety which will affect their sleep.”
But, in the end, McGinn says, with some consistency and patience, a solid sleep schedule will lead to better cognitive abilities, a more pleasant mood and temperament, and even a stronger immune system.