• Ask the Pediatrician

    Question. My daughter has had a hard time falling asleep and maintaining a good sleep schedule this school year. What can I do?

    Answer. Sleep problems are common throughout childhood, but we tend to notice them more at transitions such as back-to-school time. For many children, it’s hard to adjust after a summer of late nights and sleeping in. Kids are also facing a change in daytime routine, and they may be anxious about the new school year.

    Sleep needs vary among children. A good goal is 10 to 11 hours per night for grade-school children and 8 to 9 hours for teenagers. If your child is having trouble sleeping, here are some simple things you can do.

    • Keep sleep rituals consistent throughout the week. It’s important that bedtime and waking time are similar on weekdays and over the weekend. If your child spends time in different households, discuss this with other caretakers.
    • Good sleep habits start early in the day. Make sure your child eats nutritious foods and has a balanced diet. Avoid sodas and coffee drinks. Encourage at least an hour of exercise (such as riding a bike) each day. Ask about and discuss any problems at school. Limit computer and TV time and exposure to violent shows and video games.
    • Establish a ritual of quiet, soothing activities an hour before bedtime. Turn the TV off and keep lights and noises low. This is a good time for a warm bath or shower or reading before bed.
    • Make sure your child’s bedroom is an optimal environment for sleep. It should be cool and dark. Take out any distractions. No TVs! With older children, agree on a time to stop using cell phones and texting.

    If you’ve done all these things and you’re still having trouble, make an appointment with your child’s doctor. That way you can find out if there is an underlying medical problem, such as depression or anxiety, and if any medication or a workup may be necessary.

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    Sarah Selickman Heidt, MD, is a community pediatrician affiliated with Cincinnat Children's. She practices at Pediatric Associates of Mt. Carmel. She is president of the Cincinnati Pediatric Society.

    If you have questions for the pediatrician, email youngandhealthy@cchmc.org.