Every year around this time, parents start reaching out to me worried about how to get their kiddos back on a good sleep schedule in order to return to school in the fall. Now I know the topic of returning to school in the fall of 2020 has many considerations, but regardless of whether you return to school in person, begin a full-time homeschooling curriculum, or your child is participating in online distance learning, they will benefit from getting back on track with sleep as the school year begins.
It’s completely normal for sleep schedules and routines to slip up a bit during the summer, and I know this year has been what feels like a never-ending vacation from school, so giving this some thought this year is more important than ever.
So, here are my greatest tips to get back on track and start the year off right.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of finishing your back-to-school shopping and labeling everything and then get to the night before school starts and face total meltdowns as you attempt to get your kids in bed early for that first day of school. Start getting that bedtime scooted earlier a week or two before school starts, for fewer protests and overwhelm when the time comes.
Keep it Consistent!
Once you’ve got that bedtime back in place, keep it consistent! Body clocks are smart, for one, so the more consistent you are with bedtime, the more their bodies will learn when to be tired and when sleep is expected. This will also help to have a more consistent wake-up time each day. Remember, preschoolers ages 3-5 years need 11-13 hours of sleep, children 6 -13 years old need 9-11 hours, and high schoolers ages 14-17 still need 8-10 hours overnight. Set your bedtime based on this information and what time your child needs to get up for school.
Be Strategic with Extracurricular Activities!
If your child participates in extracurricular activities that occur in the evenings, try to choose opportunities scheduled earlier in the evening, to preserve bedtime. When that isn’t possible, space out the nights you have to have a later bedtime so they aren’t back to back nights. Sleep debt accumulates, so you’ll want to allow your child to make up that lost sleep the following 24 hours with an earlier bedtime the next night.
Routines are Key!
Develop, or get back on track with, a regular bedtime routine. A bedtime routine is not just a fluff word, it is a cueing system to the body and brain that sleep is coming. Children thrive on predictability and structure, so having a consistent and predictable bedtime routine each night will help prepare their brains and bodies for sleep. They’ll know that at the end of that bedtime routine, they’ll be tucked in bed and expected to sleep. Even encouraging your teenager to have some bedtime rituals will be helpful to their sleep.
Timers for Transitions (and shut off those SCREENS)!
If your child struggles with transitions, like most kids, use a timer. A few places this works great is to indicate how long each step of the bedtime routine lasts if you have a child who loves to stall when it comes to preparing for sleep. Or for when it’s time to shut off the screens for the night, which should be at least an hour before bedtime as the blue light they emit interferes with the body’s natural production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone…plus they are too stimulating before sleep and can make it harder to fall asleep for that reason, as well.
With the ever-growing regularity of online schooling, I realize screens are a critical piece of education but aim to have all screens, even those for schooling, off an hour before bedtime. Have your older children plug their phones into a charging station outside of the bedroom at the end of the day, so they are not tempted to scroll while they’re supposed to be sleeping.
Create a Sleep Sanctuary!
Finally, take a look around your child’s room and make sure you have set up a sleep sanctuary for them, or an environment that promotes sleep. Make the room as dark as you can possibly make it (my favorite resource for this are shades from www.blackoutez.com). This helps children fall asleep before the sun has set in the summer months and helps prevent early morning rising when the sun starts peeking in around 5am. Remove any light enhancing objects (example: glow stars on the ceiling), distractions like toys that your child may get out of bed and play with when they are supposed to be falling asleep (or even a TV), a cool temp (ideal sleeping temperature is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit), and a white noise machine to block out environmental noises that could wake them (even for older kids, this is great).
It’s expected (and encouraged) to bend the sleep rules a bit on summer vacation, but getting back on track with sleep for the school year will make everyone’s lives easier and more restful (yours included) and will promote learning and retention for your child. Welcoming structure back into sleep will help them ease back into the structure of the classroom, even the virtual one.