With summer coming to an end, you are probably starting to prepare to send your children back to school! If your family’s sleep schedule went a little loose over the summer, your child’s sleep routines and schedule might need a little fine tuning before the beginning of the school year. It is important to get your child’s sleep schedule back on track after the summer to help them perform at their best potential. After all, the beginning of the school year sets the stage for the rest of their year.
Why is sleep important for children?
Sleep is basically food for the brain. In young children, research shows that sleep has a direct impact on alertness and attention, cognitive performance, learning and memory, and mood regulation. Numerous studies have also linked poor sleep with poor academic performance.
If you need help getting your child’s sleep schedule back on track for school after the summer, here are some actionable tips that you can start implementing today:
1. Understand your child’s sleep needs
If your child is currently in a loop of late bedtimes and late mornings, understanding their sleep needs will help you create a schedule that adjusts to their body’s needs and the time they need to be up for school.
Sleep needs vary from child to child, depending on their activity levels and individual needs. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following guidelines for sleep in a 24 hour period:
- Preschoolers (ages 3-5): 10-13 hours of sleep (this includes a nap if needed)
- School-age children (ages 6-13): 9-11 hours of sleep
- Teenagers (ages 14-17): 8-10 hours of sleep
Once you have an understanding of how much sleep your child needs, and what time they have to get up to get ready for school, then you can find the right bedtime for your child to help get their sleep schedule back on track for school after summer.
Here is an example: Let’s say you have a 6 year old who needs 10 hours of sleep and needs to be up by 6:30 am to get ready for school. In order for your child to sleep the right amount, they would have to be in bed by 8:30 pm.
2. Adjust your child to their new bedtime
If you still have some time before the school year begins, we recommend a gradual process of adjusting your child to their new bedtime. Start by waking up your child 15 minutes earlier in the morning and putting them down for bed 15 minutes earlier than they have been during the summer vacation (roll up those blinds!). Continue to do this until you reach your desired bedtime and wake up time. Make sure you do this with ample time so your child has time to adjust to their new “sleep clock.” Remember, children thrive on routine, especially with sleep!
Here’s how to do this:
Your child is currently going to bed at 9 pm, and your ideal bedtime is 8 pm.
Night 1: Wake them up 15 minutes earlier than usual and make bedtime 8:45 pm.
Night 2: Wake them up 15 minutes earlier than the day before and make bedtime at 8:30 pm.
Night 3: Wake them up 15 minutes earlier than the day before and make bedtime 8:15 pm.
Night 4: Wake them up 15 minutes earlier than the day before and make bedtime at 8:00 pm.
If you have a child younger than 3 at home, and they are expected to start daycare soon, a gradual approach is what we recommend the most. Babies and toddlers are extremely sensitive to overtiredness, so shifting their schedule slowly will help avoid middle of the night wakings and fussiness.
If you are short on time, a cold turkey approach works well for some children. With this approach, all you have to do is wake your child early on the day you want to change the routine and then put them to bed early that same night.
3. Manage bedtime battles
Sometimes adjusting to a new sleep schedule does not go smoothly for some children. Some might want to keep enjoying the late night activities, or others might have trouble falling asleep quickly. Here are some tips to help you manage bedtime battles:
Visual bedtime routines
This is worth repeating: Children thrive on routine! Creating a visual bedtime routine that lays out the activities performed during bedtime is a great way to have your preschooler feel in control of their routine, and encourages feelings of cooperation.
Make an activity where you encourage your child to list and number the steps of their bedtime routine, and then have them either draw or take pictures of themselves performing those steps. Put together the steps into a booklet and have your child decorate it to their liking. Use their visual bedtime routine every night to avoid any bedtime battles.
Pro tip! Make sure you use this visual tool to set limits around bedtime. For example: If you are going to read two bedtime stories, make sure this is outlined in the book!
Cut back on electronics
Exposure to electronics before bedtime has a direct impact on the quality of sleep. The blue light emitted by electronics inhibits the production of melatonin (also known as the sleep hormone).
If possible, and we know how hard this can be sometimes, avoid the use of electronics like TVs, laptops, phones, and video games an hour or two before bedtime. Giving up electronics before bedtime is really hard for some children, so make sure you communicate changes beforehand and introduce them to other forms of entertainment and relaxation like puzzle games, journaling, reading and meditation.
4. Family meetings
Communication goes a long way with school aged children and teenagers! Sometimes, kids just need a little connection and feelings of empowerment and responsibility. Carve out some time to meet with your children over a family meeting. Discussing how healthy sleep habits impact your life can be beneficial for helping older children and teens adjust to change.
5. Be patient and consistent!
Change takes time, especially change that might not seem as “fun”. Be patient with your children and give your family time to adjust to their new schedules and routines. Give them plenty of praise and encouragement and soon, they will be ready and rested for the new school year. You got this!