Healthy sleep habits before school help children adjust

Wednesday 27th July 2022 07:23 EDT

Starting school is a major milestone for children and their families. According to new research, developing a bedtime routine in which children consistently get at least 10 hours of sleep at night is an important way to prepare for the transition to first-time schooling, which will help them adjust during the transition.

A team of scientists led by Doug Teti discovered that in addition to an easier adjustment to kindergarten, children who sleep at least 10 hours per night regularly demonstrated more success in emotional development, learning engagement, and academic achievement. The conclusion was reached after statistically controlling for family income-to-needs ratios, child health status, and the number of missed school days.

The researchers used a movement-tracking watch to track 220 children’s sleep habits over four weeks during their kindergarten year, beginning in July-August before the academic year began. They then measured the children’s sleep habits again in September, November, and April. Along with these tracking periods, teachers and staff-assessed students’ transitions to kindergarten.

"We found that children who had 10 or more hours of sleep per night on a regular basis, particularly before the kindergarten year began, tended to maintain that more optimal sleep pattern across their full kindergarten year," said Teti. "This has significant implications for anyone interested in promoting healthier sleep patterns in children making the transition to first-time schooling; parents should do what they can to help their children regularly get most--if not all--of their sleep during night hours before school year even begins.”

Researchers used these data to examine the frequency with which the children got at least 10 hours of sleep in 24 hours, rather than sleeping only at night. Getting ten or more hours of sleep in 24 hours did not affect the child's transition to kindergarten. The findings suggest that "making up" for lack of sleep at night by taking naps during the day does not help children adjust to school.

The findings of this study suggest that for children about to begin formal schooling, those hours should be concentrated at night to have the greatest impact on a child's transition to and success in kindergarten. Teti advises families who anticipate their child starting kindergarten to establish routines and expectations for healthy sleep hygiene before school begins.

"It appears that good sleep hygiene is just as beneficial for young children as it is for adults. Establishing sleep habits before the start of the kindergarten year appears to give children an advantage when transitioning to formal schooling. We hope to test these encouraging findings in a future family intervention study.”

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