Let me just start by saying, I have zero judgement for what went down with your child’s sleep this summer. I am a child sleep consultant, true, but I’m also a mom and I get it. Summer is full of late bedtimes, bending the rules and inconsistent schedules. And it’s ok. It’s also full of joy, activity, time together as a family and sweet memories that you and your kids will not soon forget.
So we can just put everything that happened this summer with your child’s sleep behind us. The mission now is to get your child back on track so that they can get the sleep they need as they head back to school.
Please read on without fear of judgement. You won’t find any here. I’m simply here to help you find success for your child’s sleep this school year. Let's get started!
1. Set a bedtime and stick to it
Let's talk about early bedtimes. Some parents are surprised that I recommend at 7-8pm bedtime for children until about 12 years of age! There are two reasons for this:
School age children (5-12 yrs old) need about 10 hours of sleep each night. Now that is just an average, some need more than 10 and some need less. You always want to start off conservatively if you are not 100% sure how much sleep your child needs at night. Work backwards from when they need to wake up in the morning for school. If 7am is their wake up time, they need to be asleep no later than 9pm. Factor in the time it takes them to fall asleep as well as the possibility that they need more than 10 hours, and 8pm is starting to look like a pretty reasonable bedtime, isn’t it?
The second reason I love early bedtimes is for you as a parent. You need some time to yourself, to re-charge your batteries. If you have a partner, it’s essential to get that quality time together as well. Speaking from experience here, making the time and space to care for ourselves makes us better parents!
2. Don’t wait until the last minute
Hopefully when you are reading this, you still have a couple weeks before school is back in session. The best way to get back on track is to make small adjustments over time.
Let’s say bedtime has been closer to 9pm this summer. You won’t be able to plop them into bed at 7:30/8pm and expect it to go smoothly. Start by moving bedtime up 15 minutes at a time every few days. This will require some consistency and discipline on your part, but easing into it will be the best for your kiddos.
3. Establish a Routine
If you had an effective bedtime routine before this summer, try re-implementing it again. The familiarity will help your child settle back into the schedule quicker and with less resistance than trying out something new.
On the other hand, if this is your first go at implementing a bedtime routine, I encourage you to jump right in! A consistent, predictable bedtime routine can make your life so much easier. Your child’s body and brain will begin to associate activities such as a bath, putting on PJs, brushing teeth, etc, with sleep, when done in the same order every night. It even cues up their melatonin production, allowing sleep to come even easier to them! I can’t recommend a bedtime routine enough!
4. Use a Timer
Things like bath time and stories are super fun, so there is usually a tendency for toddlers to try and negotiate for more time in the tub or one more story. If you find yourself constantly arguing with your child, a timer can be your best friend for keeping things on schedule. And, to take it a step further, it can even take the blame off of you! Now it is the timer that says it’s time to be done in the bath. You can’t negotiate with a timer.
5. Turn of those screens
It’s very common for rules around screen time to flex a bit during the summer months. After all, there isn’t any homework that needs to be done. Not to mention the summer Olympics that have had us glued to our screens for the past week.
The thing about screens, whether they’re phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they put out a massive amount of blue light. Our brains associate blue light with sunshine (daytime) and now we are seeing the opposite affect than we were hoping for in the evenings. Our kids start to feel more wide awake and less tired, no matter the time.
I recommend that all screens be turned off at least 1 hour before bedtime. (If you want optimal melatonin production, go with two hours.) As a side note, if you are having trouble falling asleep yourself, this tip applies to adults as well as children!
6. Hello darkness, my old friend
Now that we’ve covered artificial light, let’s talk about actual sunlight. This time of year, many of us are still getting daylight well past 8pm. Sunlight can also stimulate our kids! Try investing in a set of blackout shades. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, you can even use black trash bags or cardboard. If you’d like something a little more permanent, these are my favorite blackout shades that can be customized to fit any window!
Setting up the perfect sleep environment makes a huge difference in our kids’ sleep, trust me!
One final note. Depending on your child’s personality and age, you will likely face some protest in this change. Make up your mind to stick to your plan, despite their most convicing argument. This early bedtime is going to be the best long term solution for your child and they will need to get used to it!
So there you have it! I guarantee that no matter what grade your child is going 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(1) , more socially outgoing(2) , and ready to learn(3). Who doesn’t want this for their children?
(1) Jennifer L. Vriend, PhD Fiona D. Davidson, MA Penny V. Corkum, PhD Benjamin Rusak, PhD, FRSC Christine T. Chambers, PhD Elizabeth N. McLaughlin, PhD (2013) Manipulating Sleep Duration Alters Emotional Functioning and Cognitive Performance in Children - Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 10, 1 November 2013, Pages 1058–1069, https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jst033
(2) Mindell J, Lee C, Goh D, Leichman E, Rotella K (2017). Sleep and Social-Emotional Development in Infants and Toddlers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 46:2, 236-246, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2016.1188701
(3) Sleep efficiency (but not sleep duration) of healthy school-age children is associated with grades in math and languages - Gruber, Reut et al. Sleep Medicine , Volume 15 , Issue 12 , 1517 - 1525