Experts say a good sleep routine is the most important thing for a back-to-school checklist. Picture: iStock
Experts say a good sleep routine is the most important thing for a back-to-school checklist. Picture: iStock

Why naps are a bad habit for schoolkids

AS THE school year returns with backpacks and lunch boxes ready to go, experts have said establishing good sleep habits is the most important thing a child needs to survive the term, and naps are not included.

Sydney-based sleep coach Cheryl Fingleson said a regular wake-up and bedtime routine and enough wind down time before bed will help to assure your child gets the most out of the school day.

But she said parents should consider banning the afternoon nap to ensure their child gets the most out of bedtime.

Ms Fingleson said mini-sleeps in the daytime are more likely to leave school-aged kids feeling groggy and disorientated, than re-energised.

The sleep coach's advice is in-line with the Sleep Health Foundation, who said while it's normal for babies and toddlers to nap as they age they should also be growing out of the need to do it.

Naps are out and a good, solid night-time sleep routine is in, according to the experts, when it comes to schoolkids. Picture: iStock
Naps are out and a good, solid night-time sleep routine is in, according to the experts, when it comes to schoolkids. Picture: iStock

Ms Fingleson said children aged four and above should be holding off hitting the pillow until bedtime as napping was more likely to disrupt their night-time sleep.

"A nap will definitely affect school aged kids, firstly they don't get a chance to nap until the late afternoon (3pm onwards) and bedtime for kids' just entering school should be around 6.30pm-7pm at the latest," she said.

She added that kids of this age group should be able to sleep soundly until at least 6am the following day.

"If they wake up without an alarm you know they're getting sufficient sleep," she said.

While she held the view that napping was a no, no for school aged kids, she said teens and adults should take a short nap if they wanted one - but seriously, keep it short.

"Don't nap any longer than 20 minutes, otherwise what happens is you go into a deep sleep," she said.

University of Queensland Professor Karen Thorpe, who has done extensive research into children's sleep patterns, said evidence has shown a link between napping and decreased quality of night-time sleep in children aged three and up.

"Typically school-aged children have passed the developmental milestone of napping cessation," Professor Thorpe said.

"Napping at this age may be a good thing in circumstances of illness or when they have had disruptions to normal sleep patterns (recovery sleep) but in the absence of these circumstances day sleep serves to reduce amount and quality of night sleep."

Naps during the day have no benefit to school aged kids if they are getting enough sleep. Picture: iStock
Naps during the day have no benefit to school aged kids if they are getting enough sleep. Picture: iStock


She said half of children will stop having regular naps by age of three and less than ten per cent will nap often by the age of five.

"Daytime sleep does not provide any benefit if children are getting sufficient night sleep," she added.

"Night sleep is an important predictor of health outcomes, daytime sleep may not function in the same way."

Professor Thorpe offered the following for to help parents get their kids into a back to school sleep routine.

- Regular sleep times are important: "Disregularity of sleep is like jet lag. Our bodies have in-built clocks that respond to light (circadian timing) and though some people may be night owls or morning larks - disruption to regularity of patterns leaves us tired and not functioning at our best."

- Sleep hygiene is a must: "Maintaining a routine at bedtime that prepares us for sleep is important. In younger children a routine of bath time and parents reading is often a winding down signal preparing for sleep. For older children and adults reading is often a pre-bedtime activity. Stimulating activities are not recommended, Use of screen-based digital technologies and TV in the bedroom may not only be stimulating or displace opportunity for sleep but have blue light that may stimulate wakefulness. Cooler room temperature, darkness and quietness all assist sleep."

- It's OK for teens to sleep in a little: "Catch up weekend sleep may be necessary in the context of early school commencement. If a teenager is judging whether they should study more or get more sleep the evidence is that more sleep is better then sleep deprivation to cram in a few more facts. When we sleep our memories consolidate."

Cheryl Fingleson added that sleep was often overlooked as a health priority, for both kids and adults.

"Sleep has a huge effect on the heart, blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, memory, the immune system … people just don't understand how important it is. When you sleep, that is the only time our body repairs," she said.

She said young kids (4+) should be getting at least ten hours sleep a night, while teens and adults should get between seven and nine.

As day one of the first term is fast approaching, Ms Fingleson said it was important to get a head start in resetting your child's body clock so they don't feel jet-lagged during their first week.

"It can take three to four days to set up a good sleep schedule so I advise all parents to start a week or so before school goes back, and to be patient with their children as this is not always a smooth process," she said.

SLEEP COACH'S TIPS FOR A GOOD NIGHT'S SLUMBER

1. Get up as the sun rises each day

2. Slow it right down at night, turn off technology and spend time in a cool, dark room

3. Have regular wake-up and bedtimes

4. Ban the afternoon nap

5. Clean up any clutter in the bedroom

6. Eat well and eat together

7. Set a good example for the kids by having solid sleep habits for yourself too

For more sleep advice visit cherylthesleepcoach.com.au