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Parkland sleep expert provides back-to-school rest tips

DALLAS – Sleep is important to maintaining an overall healthy quality of life for both adults and children. A regular schedule not only helps prevent fatigue, exhaustion and daytime drowsiness, it lets the body know when it’s time to sleep and to wake up.

But sometimes the relationship with sleep isn’t always a positive one, especially for those who may toss and turn throughout the night or even sleepwalk.

“In the weeks before students return to the classroom, encourage them to start adjusting their bedtime and waketime by small 15-minute increments. Try falling asleep 15 minutes earlier and setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier,” said Marta Lynn Pardo, PhD, LSSP-Health Psychologist, and program/clinical developer with Parkland Health’s Pediatric Integrated Behavioral Health Program.

Depending on a child’s age, physical activity and individual needs, the amount of sleep needed varies. According to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Preschoolers (ages 3-5) require 10-13 hours of sleep
  • School-age children (ages 6-13) require 9-11 hours of sleep
  • Teenagers (ages 14-17) require 8-10 hours of sleep

A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study found that nearly six in 10 middle schoolers and at least seven in 10 high schoolers don’t sleep enough on school nights. Of the high school students surveyed, almost two-thirds sleep less than eight hours nightly.

Children and adolescents who do not get enough sleep have a higher risk for health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor mental health and injuries. In addition, they are more likely to have attention and behavior problems, which can contribute to poor academic performance in school, according to the CDC.

Sleep can also be a component of mental health issues, said Dr. Pardo. If an individual suffers from anxiety, the body and brain are in a state of high alert.

“When it comes to bedtime, the goal is to be in a calm and relaxed state. If people struggle with overthinking, we want to practice relaxation or mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing or visualization, or try strategies like writing down our worries or the tasks we are thinking about that are keeping us awake,” she said.

An important part of working with sleep is maintaining good sleep hygiene, Dr. Pardo said, noting that the bedroom should be screen-free and kept in a quiet, dark and cool environment, between 68-72 degrees.

To fall asleep, Dr. Pardo recommends that activities in the evening before bed are conducive to rest. “Winddown activities are anything calm and restful and can include reading a book, singing lullabies to children and listening to music. This allows our body and brain to descend into that sleepy mode by getting nice and relaxed, for a healthy night’s sleep.”

If these tactics do not work or are hard to come by, Dr. Pardo recommends contacting a primary care provider who may refer an individual to a mental health professional, a sleep specialist in the event a more serious sleep disorder is at hand, and/or exploring the option of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. Of the more prevalent sleep disorders experienced in Americans, insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and parasomnias such as sleepwalking or talking impact sleep quantity and/or quality.

Lack of sleep has also been connected to hyperactivity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, irritability, impulsivity and issues with focus, according to Dr. Pardo.

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