If you’ve been a little lax with your kids’ sleep schedule this summer, don’t worry. Summer vacation is, after all, vacation. As back-to-school time approaches, though, staying up late and sleeping in aren’t exactly A-plus habits.
This is one area where parents don’t need a scientific study to confirm the effects of sleep on children. We’ve all seen our kids get grumpy and uncooperative when they’re over-tired. You don’t need a Ph.D. to know that well-rested kids tend to be happier, better behaved, and more receptive to learning.
It can be a dramatic shift from the lazy, crazy days of summer to a regimented school-year routine. The first few weeks can be especially taxing for kindergartners and first-graders who are still fairly new to the school scene. Here are some steps you can take to proactively get everyone back to a school-friendly sleep routine.
Do the math. “Most elementary school kids need at least 10 hours of sleep a night,” says Krista Guenther, a sleep consultant with her own practice called Sleeperific. “Watch for signs of tiredness and irritability as indicators that your child may not be getting enough quality sleep.”
Make it gradual. Begin the transition at least a week before school starts (or two weeks before, if things have really gotten off track). To re-establish an earlier bedtime without shocking your child’s inner clock, Krista recommends moving it up by 15 minutes each night. You may also have to wake up your sleepyhead 15 minutes earlier each day if summer sleep-ins have become a “thing".
Be consistent. A flexible schedule can be one of the perks of summer, but it isn’t necessarily conducive to good sleep patterns. The good news is, if your child has been attending camp, you’ve likely maintained a regular morning routine during the week. On the weekends, Krista advises, “try not to abandon your schedule. Do your best to avoid extremely late nights and long sleep-ins.”
Build in some “winding down” time. To help kids mellow out in the evening, bypass foods and drinks containing sugar or caffeine. Krista recommends an age-appropriate bedtime routine, whether it’s having a bath, reading a book or doing some quiet bedside chatting with Mom or Dad. Start the process early enough so you’ll hit your target “lights out” time.
Put devices to bed, too. According to Krista, screen time should wrap up at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Letting your child use an iPad or other device in bed can be problematic as it may counteract his natural drowsiness, extend the bedtime or lead to confrontational negotiations about when to turn it off. Set up a device plug-in station away from your child’s bedroom so that both of them can properly recharge.
Create a comfortable sleep environment. Your child’s bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet. If a favourite stuffed animal is part of the mix, have it “talk” to your child about how great it is that she’s getting a good sleep so she’ll be ready to go back to school and have an awesome time with her friends.
Have a positive attitude. Kids pick up on our cues, so Krista advises using positive language about sleep, noting that you should never send your child to bed early as a punishment. When your child does get a good night’s sleep, praise him in the morning and comment how he must feel like a superhero, starting the day with lots of energy.
Tire them out. If kids spend most of their waking hours being sedentary, they won’t be physically tired at the end of the day. The 2016 ParticipACTION Report Card reported that 31% of school-aged children are sleep-deprived, often due to a repeating cycle of inactivity and poor sleep. Make sure your kids are getting fresh air and being active doing something they enjoy.
Back-to-school time is a lot like the start of a new year, with positive potential for a fresh start. As summer winds down, prioritize your kids’ sleep routine so they will be bright-eyed and raring to go on the first day.