South Charlotte

Back to school, back to sleep

The end of August is back-to-school time, and for parents it means putting together that never-ending list of things to do.

New backpacks and school supplies, physicals for athletics, healthy food for lunches and plans for afterschool care are just a few of the items to consider.

But there is one more thing to add to the list that could be profoundly important: Checking on your kids' sleep health.

Dr. Jeannine Gingras, who is board-certified in pediatrics and an internationally recognized expert in sleep disorders, is on a mission this time of year to alert parents to what they should look for.

"Sleep is not a luxury, it's a health necessity," said Gingras, whose Gingras Sleep Medicine office is in SouthPark. She says keeping a watchful eye on your children's sleep is as important to their overall health as the food they eat and the exercise they get.

A child's sleep not only is important to the child, it's important to the entire family.

"If a child doesn't sleep, the whole family is in upheaval," said Gingras.

Gingras suggests children ages 5-10 get 10 hours of sleep a night; ages 11-13 get 9.5 hours; and ages 13 and older get 9.2 hours.

With relaxed summer bedtimes, however, how are parents supposed to get them back onto a schedule?

"With younger kids, the best way to reset their clock is to allow them to go to bed at their later summer bedtime, but then get them up at the anticipated school-day wakeup time and expose them to sunlight," said Gingras. "Then start scaling back bedtime by half-hour increments each night until they are getting their necessary night's rest."

This technique will also work for older children but is almost impossible for parents to monitor. Gingras says that when kids become teenagers, they experience a "circadian shift," meaning they do not get sleepy until about 11 p.m. Most high schools begin before 7:30 a.m., and some kids are getting up at 5 a.m. to primp for school or take long bus rides.

The sleep amounts for these students don't add up, said Gingras.

Fatigue is not the only - or often even the most noticeable - effect of lack of sleep. Many children not getting enough sleep sometimes exhibit symptoms that mimic attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

"Elementary-school-aged kids who are sleep-deprived are not sleepy during the day: They're hyperactive, poorly behaved, have mood swings and have poor memory and attention spans. They may also be obese," said Gingras.

Middle and high school-age children may exhibit daytime sleepiness, seem as if they are in a perpetual funk or even become depressed if they are not getting enough rest.

Sleep apnea, insomnia, snoring, sleepwalking and restless-leg syndrome are a few of the disorders that might prevent a child from getting quality sleep time.

Children suspected of having a sleep disorder should be assessed by a medical professional, said Gingras.

With the onset of a new school year, take the time to peek in at your sleeping children and assess the quality of their sleep. Monitoring their sleep may give you new insight into their daytime temperament and performance.