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I'm a pediatrician by training with an undergrad degree in journalism. I spend my days teaching and mentoring future pediatricians. My wife and I spend our evenings and weekends keeping up with very active twins. This blog will chronicle my thoughts on current children's health care issues and trends, trials and tribulations as a parent and husband mixed in with a lot of life experience.


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photo William Stratbucker, MD
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Best Tip for Back to School? Nail Down the Bedtime Routine
by William Stratbucker, MD at 03:13 PM

 Guest blogger Candace Smith-King, MD, is Spectrum Health Medical Group pediatrician with Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.

Can you believe school starts on Tuesday for many children? I don’t know about you, but for me, it feels like summer just started!

So what should you do to get ready for the new school year? I say establishing or re-establishing your school year bedtime routine is one of the most important.

Here’s why: Summer is a time when parents are sometimes more loose with schedules and allow their kids to stay up late, or sleep less or more than usual, which is okay once in a while. But in order to be at their very best, stay healthy and do well in school, kids need a certain amount of rest every night. It definitely varies from child to child, but there are some averages regarding how long certain age groups should sleep: 

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 10 to 12 hours per day, including one midday nap of 1 to 2 hours and nighttime sleep.

School-Aged Kids (6 to 12 years): 9 to 11 hours per night. Keep in mind they tend to take 15 to 30 minutes to fall asleep.

Adolescents (13 to 17 years): 9 to 10 hours per night, but many do well with 8 hours of sleep per night. Teenagers get sleepy later than preteens and often have trouble falling asleep. Keep in mind they may not fall asleep for 20 to 30 minutes after lying quiet in bed.

5 Steps to Peaceful Slumber
Having a bedtime routine is the best way to ensure good sleep for your child. Here is a good basic routine that seems to work well with most kids, regardless of their age (even teens need a bedtime routine):

1. Take a bath. Bathing can be fun and relaxing—I recommend bathing kids daily, or every other day. Make sure there is always an adult present with young children, as children have drowned in only an inch of bathwater. Let your kids bathe and play in the water for 5 or 10 minutes—that’s really all they need. Older kids (8 and up) can shower, if they prefer.

2. Have a healthy snack. This can be done prior to bath time, if you prefer. I only allow healthy “easy” snacks prior to bedtime—carrots, apples, grapes, pears, Triscuits, etc.  Water (or warm skim, 1 percent or 2 percent milk) is an option, too. But if you’re worried about bedwetting, skip the liquids.

3. Brush teeth. Remember, no matter how sleepy your child is, teeth must be brushed. This is not up for debate!

4. Establish quiet time. How you do this mostly depends on your child’s age. If your child is between three and seven, I suggest reading a book. For kids ages 7 to 11, have them read to you or let them read independently. Sometimes older kids like to listen to music. This is fine, just make sure it’s calming and not explicit. “Quiet time” should happen for 15 to 30 minutes (older children may need more time). On a related note—watching TV is too stimulating and is not a good quiet time activity.

5. Tuck your child in. “Tucking in” makes a child feel special and gives that child “one on one” time with a parent. This is a great time to tell your kids how special they are to you and how much you love them! 

Also, consider your child’s personal preferences when nailing down a bedtime routine. For instance, my three-year-old son has to have his Spongebob fleece throw in order to sleep; my 10-year-old son has to have the fan on in his room no matter what; and my 14-year-old daughter has to be stress-free to fall asleep, so I limit her cell phone and Facebook use prior to bedtime.

I wish you and your kids a good night.

– Dr. Smith-King

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