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Start of New School Year Can Spell Sleep Trouble for Parents

New School Year Sleep Problems

Following our tips will help you get the sleep you need.

For parents already overwhelmed by hectic work and home schedules, the start of the school year brings additional responsibilities that may intensify daily stress levels and contribute to sleep loss. Helping with homework, scrambling to ready young ones for the school bus, and participating in kids' extracurricular activities require parents to get up earlier, go to bed later, and lie awake in the throes of insomnia while preparing for the next day's burdens.

According to a new survey by Harris Interactive®,(1) one out of three parents with school-age children report that back-to-school time is more hectic than other times of the year. An equal amount of parents also report losing sleep during this busy time of year.(1)

"In the fall, parents return to a 3-shift day involving office work, household chores, and expanded childcare duties, such as after-school activities, homework, or carpooling," says Rafael Pelayo, MD, assistant professor at Stanford University's Sleep Disorders Clinic. Parents may feel there aren't enough hours in a day to take care of all these responsibilities, so parents may feel forced to stay up later and get up earlier. They may have problems sleeping once they're in bed as they think about all the work that needs to be juggled.

Consequences of Sleep Loss

Even occasional sleep loss can make daily life feel more stressful for parents and cause them to feel less productive.(2) Sleep loss may affect mood and behavior, drain energy levels, compromise safety, and diminish enjoyment of daily activities.(3) Sleep problems can also impair memory, learning, and logical reasoning, contributing to mistakes at school or work and straining relationships at home.(3)

Parents' Homework Assignment: Get More Sleep

Ensuring healthy sleep habits for the entire family is important. The following tips can help parents (and their kids) get the sleep they need this fall.

1) Create a bedtime routine for the family. The routine should include regular bedtimes and wake-up times, and at least 15 to 30 minutes of calm, soothing activities in advance of bedtime, such as reading or listening to soothing music. Reading to younger children can be relaxing for both them and the parent. Watching TV, exercise, and computer and telephone use right before going to bed should be avoided. Try to maintain the routine on weekends and holidays.(4)

2) Try to reduce some of the associated stress by beginning back-to-school preparations early. Adjust bedtimes at least one to two weeks before school starts to make it easier for children to adjust to schooltime schedules.(4)

3) Reduce the number of after-school activities that your children are involved in if their schedules are stressful for them. Stress can contribute to sleep problems. Experts recommend that children involve themselves in no more than seven hours of extracurricular activities a week.(5)

4) If parents have a persistent sleep problem, they should talk with their doctor. In addition to behavioral and lifestyle modifications, there are short-acting prescription sleep medications that may help individuals fall asleep quickly and increase total sleep time with minimal next-day effects.

For more information and other resources on sleep, visit www.shuteye.com, www.healthysleeping.com, or www.sleepfoundation.org.

1. Harris Interactive QuickQuery(SM). Rochester, NY: Harris Interactive; July 24-28, 2003.
2. National Sleep Foundation. Pain and sleep. Available at: www.sleepfoundation.org/publications/sleepandpain.html. Accessed June 4, 2003.
3. National Sleep Foundation. When you can't sleep. ABCs of ZZZs. Available at: www.sleepfoundation.org/publications/ZZZs.html. Accessed June 18, 2003.
4. National Sleep Foundation. It's time to get your child's sleep schedule back on track for the new school year, says the National Sleep Foundation. 2001. Available at: www.sleepfoundation.org/PressArchives/backontrack.html. Accessed June 3, 2003.
5. Bergstrom JM. School's Out: Resources for Your Child's Time. Berkeley, Calif: Ten Speed Press; 1990.

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