If you have school-age children this is probably the point in the summer when you’re starting to realize that their routine has fallen by the wayside. Most likely they’ve been staying up later and maybe even sleeping in later as well. While that’s part of the fun of summer it can also make it hard for our kids to fall to sleep and wake up at a biologically appropriate time when school starts back up again.
Your child may balk at the fact that you are insisting on routines once again but prioritizing sleep means that your child will perform better in the classroom and be more emotionally and physically ready to handle the challenges of each day. School-age children between the ages of five and twelve years need 10-11 hours of sleep a night. A lack of sleep leads to impaired memory, lack of alertness, a shorter attention span and poor concentration. The side- effects of poor sleep lead to children who do not learn as quickly as those who get the sleep that their bodies require.
So, as you are running around making sure that you have your child’s school supplies and first day of school outfit ready to go before those school bells ring, also make sure your child’s body is primed and ready for learning before those alarm clocks start ringing too! There are many ways to get your child’s sleep back on track. Here are some simple tips to help reestablish routines and prioritize sleep:
Start Early and Involve Your Child: Ideally, we want to begin implementing schedule changes two weeks before getting back to school as this is how long it typically takes to catch a child up on sleep and reset their biological clocks. Two weeks before your child needs to head back to school begin moving bedtime earlier and encourage them to start their day earlier as well. Make sure to get them outside for some late afternoon natural light, which will help set their internal clock.
At a non-sleep time, call a family meeting where your child and his/her sleep is the agenda item. Explain why sleep is important and that when we get the sleep we need we are ready to handle each school day. Also explain that there will be some new “Sleep Rules” to help everyone get the rest their bodies need. Create a bedtime routine poster as a family. Ask your child what he/she needs to do before bed and what he or she enjoys doing before bed that helps him/her feel ready for sleep. Detail these items on a piece of poster board to hang in your child’s room. For non-readers or early readers pictures can be added, and of course invite your child’s participation in making and decorating the poster if possible. Depending on your child’s age the routine might look something like this: “I will brush my teeth, pick out my clothes for tomorrow, read one book, say my prayers and get into bed. You can also do the same for your morning routine. For example: “I will eat breakfast, get dressed, brush my teeth, put my homework in my backpack and put on my shoes.” Helping children understand what to expect allows them to feel in control and prepared.
Determine bedtime based on your child’s sleep needs and slowly move bedtime up:
To determine your child’s optimal bedtime we need to know exactly how much sleep he or she needs. If she is between the ages of five and twelve years of age she will need 10-11 hours of sleep a night. For children to get the sleep their body requires we need to work backwards from the time they will need to be awake in the morning. If your child must be up at 6:00am to eat, brush their teeth and get dressed before their bus arrives at 7:00am then we would want the child to be fast asleep, not getting into bed, by 7:00pm. If bedtime has slowly crept into the 9pm range over the course of the summer you can slowly work back until you have reached your bedtime goal. Every three or four days move bedtime up by 15 minutes. Once you reach your determined bedtime insist on it and be consistent. Since this may mean a much earlier bedtime when the sun is still high in the sky, ensure that your child’s room is conducive to sleep. With an earlier bedtime, this will likely mean adding blackout shades so that your child can easily fall to sleep. Eliminate all lights, even night lights if possible – the darker the better! Since other members of your household may still be awake and creating normal household noises adding a sound machine may also help eliminate distractions and allow your child to fall to sleep without feeling as though they are missing out on activities elsewhere in your home.
Implement a Consistent and Soothing Routine: This one is not just for babies and toddlers! Even adults benefit from calming activities at the days end that cue our body that sleep is approaching. An hour before bed avoid electronics, sugary foods, and vigorous physical activity. Allow your child some down time to unwind and relax. This doesn’t need to be anything complicated. Ask your child what is relaxing to them. Some ideas include puzzles, reading or coloring. You may also want to incorporate guided meditation; five minutes of slow deep breathing or pre-bedtime yoga as part of their nighttime routine will help relax and calm their minds and bodies. There are many great children’s books specifically for this purpose today.
Ditch the Electronics: Eliminate the use of any electronic devices for at least an hour before they should be asleep, including TV. LED lights suppress the production of melatonin and make it harder for us to fall to sleep. Instead read a book, listen to some soothing music, or stretch. Once it’s time to put the electronics away for the day they should remain out of your child’s bedroom for the entire night. They are distraction and have a negative impact on sleep. This is a very healthy habit to start even from a young age. Most adults are guilty of this so let’s teach our children that it is not only OK but also healthy to shut off at night. Text messages, e-mails, social media, and videos will still be there in the morning.
Talk About the New Year: As adults, it’s easy to forget that back to school can actually be a bit stressful for our children. Engage them in conversations (ideally at non-sleep times) and talk with them about what they are looking forward to, what they hope to learn and what they feel nervous about. If your child is particularly anxious and worries are keeping him or her up have your child write down what’s on his/her mind at the end of each day. They can write both good and bad stuff and share it with an adult if they want.
Don’t Overschedule, but do schedule sleep: There are so many exciting activities to choose from nowadays. Your child wants to play soccer? There are several teams to choose from. Your child wants to create art? There is a studio for that! Your child wants to fence? There is even a class for that! It’s easy as parents to get caught up in the excitement over the choices, opportunities and experiences our children can have. But try not to over schedule. Choose one or two activities for each season and avoid scheduling activities for every day of the week if possible. Don’t forget that children will need time to complete homework, eat dinner, shower, and unwind. If they are trying to get from school to soccer and piano all in one day it’s going to be very difficult for them to get the sleep they need. Instead, be selective about activities and schedule their sleep just like other aspects of their day.
Be Consistent: Once you’ve established a healthy bedtime routine and sleep habits insist on it each day. Make it a priority and stick to it, even on weekends! Ideally, children should be going to bed and waking up around the same time each day to keep their biological clock intact.
Sleep doesn’t need to be a challenge. Incorporating some of these recommendations and making sleep a priority in your house is one of the best ways to set your child up for a successful school year ahead!
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at email@example.com to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook for more great sleep tips!
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