Back to School Sleep Tips
Getting Your Child’s Sleep Ready for Back to School
The start of a new school year is quickly approaching. After months of summer fun, you’re kiddos likely have a later bedtime and a “schedule” that no longer exists.
Let me just start off by saying, honestly and sincerely, no judgment for what might have gone down in the last couple of months with your child’s sleep.
I know… I’m a child sleep consultant and you may think that I’m going to chastise you for the late bedtimes, unenforced rules, or inconsistent schedules, that may have taken place over your summer vacation.
But I get it. I really do. I’m a mama myself and I know how precious these summer months are. You want to squeeze every minute of joy and togetherness you can from these glorious days. If it’s a choice between consistent bedtimes and staying up to watch the fireworks, I mean c’mon. That’s no choice at all.
So no matter what might have happened over the summer vacation, all is forgiven. The mission now is to get your child back on track so that they can get back to sleep at a reasonable hour before they head back to school.
So I hope you’ll keep reading without fear of any finger wagging or talk of what you should have done differently. I promise you, it’s not in here.
Set a bedtime and stick to it
So first things first. What time should your kids be going to bed? Well, a lot of parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 at night.
They’re even more surprised when I tell them this should be bedtime until their child is about 12 years old.
There are two reasons why I think kids should be in bed, sleeping, by 8:00 at night.
First, kids need at least 10 hours of sleep a night.
Regardless, if your toddler needs to be up by 7:00 A.M. in order to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 8:00 at the latest. Factor in the time it takes them to get to sleep after they get into bed, plus the inevitable request for a glass of water or a totally bogus insistence that they need to use the bathroom half an hour after you close their door. 8:00 is pretty much the latest they can get to bed and still get the sleep they need.
Second, you, as a parent, and your partner, need to exist child-free for a few hours a day. You need to be able to watch TV, eat some junk food, just do grown-up things and to recharge. It’s vital to your relationship with your partner and with your kids.
Alright, so now that we know when to put our kids to bed, let’s move on to the significantly more difficult issue of how.
Don’t leave it to the last minute
Hopefully you’re reading this while there’s still a couple of weeks before school starts. Because the easiest way to get back on track is little by little.
Lets say they’ve been going to bed at around 9:00 for the better part of their vacation. Try moving bedtime up by about 15 minutes every 4 days until you’re back to their normal bedtime. If this requires a little trickery on your part by adjusting the clocks in their room, then so be it. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means.
Establish a bedtime routine
If you had an effective bedtime routine before your summer vacation threw everything into upheaval, then try to re-implement it as much as possible. Familiarity will definitely help your child settle back into the schedule quicker and with less resistance.
On the other hand, if this is your first go at implementing a bedtime routine, let me just stress how much easier a repetitive, predictable bedtime routine can make your life. When your child’s body and brain start to associate things like baths, stories, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it cues up their melatonin production, making sleep come easier. I seriously can’t recommend bedtime routines highly enough. Whether your child is starting school for the first time or simply starting a new grade, everything will be new. Having a predictable bedtime routine will provide your child with stability. No matter what the day may bring, bedtime will always be the same.
Turn of those screens
Along with the slack enforcement of bedtimes during the summer, we also tend to ease up on the rules surrounding screen time in the hours leading up to bedtime. After all, there’s no homework to be done.
The thing about screens is that they put out a massive amount of blue light. Our brains associate blue light with sunshine and therefore daytime. Screens before bed can actually have the unwanted effect of firing your kid’s system back up when it should be powering down. Try to avoid any screen time for at least two hours before bed. (Side note, this also applies to adults. If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try reading instead of watching TV before you turn in.)
Turn to the dark side
And while we’re on the subject of light, for many of you it doesn’t get dark until significantly later than 8:00. The only thing that simulates sunlight better than a TV screen is… y’know, actual sunlight. If your child’s bedroom is still lit up when you’re putting them to bed, I suggest investing in a set of blackout blinds. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can get a thick piece of fabric from Walmart for around $10. There is also something called non-adhesive window film, which is just plastic you can cut to size and slap up over the glass. If you’re concerned about aesthetics, there are plenty of color options besides black that still block out the light. Whichever way you choose to do it, get that sunlight out of the bedroom. It’ll make a world of difference, I promise you.
One final thing to add here:
Having experienced some leniency regarding bedtime can suddenly transform your child into an astoundingly sharp lawyer. Arguments for why they should be allowed to stay up later are likely to be heard for at least a few days. But hold that loving boundary as this 8:00 bedtime is going to be in place for several years. Once they see that the boundary is firm the easier bedtime will be for you and for them.
So there it is, folks! I hope you had yourselves a wonderful summer vacation, and that your little’s are looking forward to starting school again. I promise you that, no matter what grade they’re headed into, nothing will help them go into the new school year with a better attitude and positive outlook than getting plenty of sleep. They’ll be happier, more socially outgoing , and ready to learn.