Tag Archives: kids

How to Cope With the Back-to-School Routine

'tired' photo (c) 2008, nigelpepper - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here it is almost September again. How is that possible? Wasn’t Memorial Day just last weekend? It’s time for the start of another school year, which is a stressful time in my house and I’m guessing yours as well.

It isn’t exactly a secret when school starts; we’ve known the date for months. We’ve been hitting the back-to-school sales for weeks, so it’s not like we weren’t thinking about it. One would think with all this advanced warning and preparation, we would have this down to an art. However, my third and eighth grade kids will tell you we don’t.

Why is the start of the school year so physically and emotionally challenging? Perhaps it is sleep, specifically the lack of it. Bedtimes for most students slowly drift into the late evening hours as summer progresses, and the kids never see a sunrise.

Despite the best of intentions, bedtimes do not adjust easily or painlessly when school begins. The two- or three-hour sudden change in bedtime amounts to a good case of Jet Lag; colorfully named “desynchronosis.” The rule of thumb is it takes one day to adjust for every hour changed. Common symptoms of desynchronosis include fatigue, irritability, headache and mild depression. This describes how my kids feel on the first few days of school – and you thought it was normal.

But what time they go to bed isn’t the whole story. When they get up is important, too. “Sleep latency” is the medical term for being awakened and feeling like “something the cat drug in.” This depends on when in a sleep cycle you wake up. Being awakened during deep sleep or REM sleep is disorienting and amplifies sleep latency (the cat thing).

If you wake up during light sleep you feel almost human. There are actually alarm clocks that monitor your sleep and wake you up only when you’re sleeping lightly. So a wake up range would replace the wake up time. Have to get up at 7 a.m.? Set your range for 5:30-7 a.m. and it might make you feel better. Counterintuitive isn’t it?

But sleep patterns are not the only thing to consider when kids go back to school; change in activity is a factor as well. During the summer, kids move rapidly from interest to interest to keep themselves amused. They are working with an attention span that is as short as five minutes in young kids and 20 minutes for teenagers. When school starts they are suddenly trapped like rats for hours on end. Their activities are chosen by their teachers, who share neither their restlessness nor their short attention span. This too takes several days to readjust.

What about summer meals? What summer meals? The kids are going five different directions and grab something when they occasionally make a pass through the kitchen. Frequent small feedings, heavily loaded with “carbs” and taken at liberty, are the rule. Their young digestive systems tolerate this surprisingly well. With the start of school and scheduled, regulated meal times, blood sugars are predictably plummeting. The result is more restlessness, fatigue and irritability.

Like so many other things in life, the solution to adjusting to the back-to-school routine is practice, practice, practice. Think about the school day, wake up times, meal times and bed times. You can still fit in some fun and readjust your sleep and meal schedules at the same time. A two- or three-day head start will make all the difference. No, that doesn’t mean you have to do homework before school starts. Let’s not be ridiculous.

Take care, and good luck with your new wake-up regimen.

Dr B


Have a Happy (Healthy) Halloween

It was a dark and stormy night…

I always wanted to use that line. It gets you in the mood for Halloween. This is my kid’s second favorite holiday and perhaps yours as well. It doesn’t require a lot of preparation, it’s good fun and it’s kind of a low-maintenance holiday. You are perhaps asking yourself where I am going in a medical blog post about Halloween – sugar comas, scare-induced heart attacks?

We will start with night vision. Trick-or-Treating isn’t much fun until after dark. Humans unfortunately have one of the poorest eyes for night vision on the planet. Night vision involves using cells in the eye called rods. These are sensitive, lower resolution cells with even more sensitive light cells called cones. Since rods are not in the visual axis (the middle), they give a rather shadowy view. The rods are rendered useless after bright light until they regenerate their light active chemicals. About 80% of your night vision returns after 10 minutes; the remainder takes a good 30 minutes to recover. So try to spend 10 or 15 minutes in low-light areas before you hit the streets with your candy bag.

Interestingly enough, red light doesn’t affect the rods (that explains the red light in the control rooms in all the movies), so you can get or maintain your full night vision when in red light.

With Halloween being in late October, it’s a time of notoriously unpredictable weather. In some areas, like where I live in Phoenix, a mask and costume can set you up for heat exhaustion. In other areas, the light-weight material used in costumes can mean hypothermia. Masks also help people fall off curbs because they produce tunnel vision. Add a little ice in northern climates, and broken wrists are not uncommon injuries Halloween night.

And how can we forget the candy. Fortunately, poisoned or booby-trapped Halloween candy is largely an urban myth. I have never met anyone who could tell me they saw such evil deeds with their own eyes. There probably aren’t a lot of alligators in the sewer either.

Of course, the main danger of Halloween is your kids eating so much candy they throw up on the carpet. How bad is Halloween candy for you anyway? The calorie counts show 6 candy corns are about 30 calories, a roll of Smarties is 25 calories, and of course everyone’s favorite, a single Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup has a whopping 80 calories (most of which are fat). It’s probably a good thing that Halloween occurs just once one a year.

To those who have Type 2 diabetes, the dangers of a candy binge are very real. A heavy sugar calorie load, which gets absorbed rapidly, will drive a diabetic’s blood sugar into the stratosphere. The blood thickens, and a hyperosmolar coma can follow. Candy should be avoided at all times by Type 2 diabetics, even on the holiday that celebrates with candy – sorry.

Despite all of this, Halloween is still my second favorite holiday. Keep in mind – Halloween candy is well wrapped and stays fresh for months, so there’s no hurry to eat it all in one night.

Trick or Treat,

Dr. B

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