Web Original: Health: Back to Sleep

Forget the notebooks and the graphing calculator. The most important thing your kids need this school year is sleep. Are they getting enough?

With summer coming to a close and the chilly late-August air upon us, it’s time for school, homework and a real bedtime again. But what seems to be last on adults’ list of priorities — catching those Zs — is rubbing off on kids as well.

Besides being tired during the day, too little sleep can cause your kid to carry extra pounds, and researchers at Case Western Reserve University found that skimping on shut-eye can lead to high blood pressure in teens — a problem which can lead to heart disease later in life.

So, what’s a parent to do? Follow these simple steps from CHOP’s top sleep specialists. (Oh, and you need seven to nine hours, too. So feel free to turn off the TV after 10 p.m.)

Tighten up on the techno: Tired teen? The culprit just might be that shiny new iPod Touch or that cute little MacBook.“There are many distractions that are more fun than going to bed,” says Carole Marcus, MD, director of the Sleep Center at CHOP. “Most teens have a TV in their bedroom, a cell phone and they instant message each other [on computers] all night. A good bedroom should be a quiet, dark, calming place, says Marcus. A good first step? Take out the TV.

Watch the light: A teen’s biological clock is set about two hours later than everyone else’s, so teens are inclined to stay up later and stay in bed longer. Of course, busy schedules keep teens from following their natural rhythm. A cool fix? Sunglasses. Wearing a pair in the afternoon is a good way to help the body transition to an earlier bedtime, says Marcus.

Be watchful: Thanks to rising rates of childhood obesity, one of the main culprits edging children’s dreams is sleep apnea. This disorder causes breathing to stop hundreds of times during the night, and, in order to restart breathing, the brain wakes up briefly. Though a person may not recall waking up throughout the night, sleep is disturbed and the person never fully rests. “Sometimes, children with sleep disorders are mislabeled with ADD,” says Lee J. Brooks, MD, attending pulmonologist at CHOP. “Any child with poor school performance, inattentiveness, or ‘zoning out’ in class, should be considered for a sleep evaluation.”

Avoid afternoon wake-up calls: “It’s helpful if the schedule does not get too out of whack on weekends," says Brooks. "If the teen sleeps until noon on Sunday, he or she will be unable to go to bed at a reasonable time that night, making it difficult to wake up Monday morning.

See sleep as a treat: “Most parents are very sleep-deprived themselves,” says Marcus. If you’re staying up late to watch TV, what kind of message does that send to your kids? Try instituting a household curfew, such as: "Everyone in bed by 11 p.m.," or, "No phone calls after a certain time." Keeping your sleep schedule regular will make it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up when that alarm blares.