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How to get your kids back on their school-year sleep schedule

It sure does feel like summer, which can make it hard to believe (especially for kids) that summer break is either over — or almost over — for students throughout metro Atlanta.

Most metro districts return to school by early August, starting with a few school districts including Cobb County returning to classes this week.

As families get ready for a new school year, it’s important for children to establish a sleeping pattern after a couple of months of going to bed and waking up late.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-age children need nine to 11 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers need eight to 10 hours. However, when surveyed in 2014, parents estimated their children’s sleep time to be lower than that: with 11-and 12-year-olds getting just 8.2 hours; and teenagers ages 15-17 getting barely seven hours of slumber a night. One-quarter of parents indicated their kids should be getting a full hour more of sleep every night to be at their best, according to the poll.

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2015 file photo, children hold hands as they walk with their new book bags, in Miami. No more staying up late during the week. Farewell to sleeping in. And, hello homework! (AP Photo/(Lynne Sladky), File) (Lynne Sladky)

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Lack of sleep contributes to a wide range of woes, including an impaired performance in school and behavioral and emotional problems.

Dr. Anthony Sabatino, chief medical officer and regional vice president for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, offers the following six tips to help establish a new sleep pattern and make sure they don’t start the school year off on the wrong side of the bed:

Maintain a balanced schedule. At the beginning of the school year, it’s exciting to see all the great activities and opportunities available to children, but be careful not to overcommit. Evening activities and homework are commonly cited reasons for a lack of sleep, especially among teenagers.

Develop a consistent pre-bedtime routine. The body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading, taking baths, and listening to music. Avoid TV, Web surfing, video games, physical activities and sugary foods or drinks before bedtime. You might want to consider removing any iPads or computers from the bedroom.

Consider placing a clock in your children’s rooms and informing them of their wake-up time. Ask them to stay in the bed until that time each morning — unless there is a compelling reason to leave their rooms. If they wake up before the designated time and cannot immediately get back to sleep, leave a book by their nightstand to read (versus getting up and becoming active). Chances are your children will fall back asleep.

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Keep it quiet once they’re in bed. It can be tough for kids’ bodies to understand that it’s time to go to sleep if parents or older siblings are still being active or loud. They feel like they’re missing out on something. Once your child is in bed, dim the lights in the house and stick to relaxing, quiet activities. Music can also be soothing to some children (and adults), so consider using a device with a timer that can play soft instrumental music for up to 30 minutes as your children drift off to sleep.

Experts say it’s important to talk to your child about the importance of sleep for health and well-being. Remember that you are a role model to your child; set a good example. FILE PHOTO (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Be on the lookout for medical conditions that may be interfering with sleep. If your child is going to bed at a reasonable time but still showing signs of sleep deprivation, your child may have an issue affecting the child’s sleep patterns. Common signs of sleep deprivation include difficulty waking up in the morning, taking excessive naps, acting overly emotional, hyperactivity, or having trouble with concentration. If your child is displaying these symptoms, your child may have sleep apnea, sleep anxiety, allergies or other disorders getting in the way of a good night’s sleep. Consult your doctor if you think your child may have a problem.

And remember, it’s not just the amount of sleep children and teenagers get each night, but the quality of that sleep. Even eight or nine hours of interrupted sleep will typically result in children being tired and unable to focus the next day, Sabatino said.

The back-to-school routine is not always a smooth adjustment for kids or their parents.

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