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Back-to-school sleep schedules important for kids

Monday - 8/18/2014, 4:49am  ET

KidSleeping2.jpg
It's time to get kids' sleep schedules back on track. (WTOP File)

WASHINGTON -- Bad news, kids: Summer vacation is coming to an end and you have to go back to school.

Now it's time to get your sleep schedule back on track.

It's similar to jet lag, says Daniel Lewin, a pediatric psychologist and sleep specialist with the Children's National Health System.

He says parents need to take preventive action well before the school year starts by waking their children a little earlier every day, and getting them into a regular pattern before classes begin.

Start a week or two before the new school year, Lewin says, and rouse the children 20 to 30 minutes earlier each morning until they get close to their school wake-up time.

He also suggests implementing school-night rules early -- including a curfew on all electronics.

"That will mean turning off electronics at a reasonable time," he says. "At least half an hour, optimally an hour, before bedtime."

He says electronics are very engaging, and the light from these devices is problematic -- especially for teens -- because it affects the biological clock and delays the ability to fall asleep.

Students between the ages of 6 and 8 need up to 11 hours of sleep a night. Slightly older kids -- 9, 10 and 11 -- need a little less. Teenagers need roughly nine hours of sleep.

Lewin, who has done extensive research on the impact sleep disturbances have on mood and behavior, says the stakes are high.

"We really now understand that sleep is absolutely critical for optimal health and for attention and mental health and quality of life as well," he says.

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to depression and even obesity. As a new school year rapidly approaches, Lewin warns that children who don't get enough sleep could face a big disadvantage in the classroom.

Schools in Culpeper and Fauquier counties begin Monday, Aug. 18, and Calvert County begins Tuesday, Aug. 19. Read the full list of school start dates on WTOP.com.

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