There is nothing like a rainy, cool week (and the kids going back to school) to remind us that summer is over. Done right summer is care-free and full of play dates, beach excursions, and pool days that leave your kids smelling like sunscreen, with sand in their hair and smiles on their faces. There aren’t many things I can think of that are more beautiful.
I know that all this summer fun often means inconsistent schedules, later bedtimes, and unenforced rules. And I’m ok with that! I am a child sleep consultant, but I am a mom, too! Sometimes you have to relax the rules a little. No judgement! Now that fall is in the air I think most of us (our kids included) are ready to invite a little structure back into our lives. I want to help you get your child back on track so they can get all the sleep they need for a happy and productive day at school. A child who is well rested is going to better at taking on challenges and finding creative solutions to their problems. We’re talking academic, social, emotional and physical challenges. The whole package.
Below I have outlined my top 5 tips for getting your child back to a schedule!
1. Set a bedtime and stick to it
For toddlers and children up to 12 years old I recommend a bedtime somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 PM. This sounds early to many parents, but let me explain:
First, kids need at least 10 hours of sleep at night. Some need up to 12 hours. If your child needs to be up at 7:00am in order to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9:00pm at the latest. Consider the time it takes them to fall asleep after they get in bed, the requests to use the bathroom or for a glass of water, or just one more kiss. Having them in bed at 8:00pm is pretty much the latest they can get to bed and still get the sleep they need.
A little bonus is that an early bedtime for your child is also what gives you the personal time you need to relax, recharge, and get the sleep you need in order to be the parent you want to be.
2. Establish a bedtime routine
If you had a good one before summer, try reintroducing it. The familiarity will be comforting to your child, plus you know it works.
If you haven’t tried one before, here are a few suggestions. The entire routine should be about 20-30 minutes. It should be exactly the same every night. The predictability of it is not only comforting, but when your child’s brain starts to associate brushing their teeth, putting on pajamas, and reading a book, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it cues melatonin production, making sleep come more easily. A calm and peaceful bedtime is a beautiful thing for everyone involved.
3. Use a timer
Sometimes it is difficult to keep the bedtime routine moving. If you find yourself in this position, find a timer your child can understand (egg timers or sand timers, which are sold in packs with different amounts of time, work well) and use it for each step in the routine. Giving your child a timer to help guide them takes some of the responsibility off you. They don’t have to move on to pajamas because mom or dad said, but because the clock said! It also gives a little control to the child, which some children thrive on.
4. Turn off screens
This is for parents with children of all ages, tots to teens. A movie or TV show helps keep your child’s body still and lets you get things done, I know. The reason to stay away from screens before bedtime, whether they’re phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they all have blue light, which our brain associates with sunshine and daytime. Blue light makes our brains and bodies wind up even when we want them to wind down. Try to avoid any kind of screen time at least two hours before bed. It will be good for your kids, and good for you too if you’re having trouble falling asleep.
5. Turn to the dark side
While we’re on the topic of light, the darker your child’s room is the better. You want to do your best to eliminate any sun or street lights that might be coming in. It is worth investing in some blackout curtains or shades. Don’t forget to minimize the light from inside their room, too. Cover light that might be coming from a digital clock, baby monitor, sound machine, etc.
Ok, that’s it! It might take some work, especially if the concept is new to your child, and it will definitely take consistency on your end, but it will be worth it for everyone involved. I know that even though school has started and fall is beginning, not all structure is kept. There are even many three-day weekends scattered throughout the fall. My best advice is to stick to your bedtime and the bedtime routine as best you can, even if kids don’t have school the next day. Part of what you are doing is teaching your child’s body what to expect and how to respond. (Remember the melatonin?) Only doing this sometimes won’t do the trick. Am I saying that if you don’t stick to it 100% of the time it won’t work? No, that would be impossible! Just do the best you can.
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 Emo- tional 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
Mindell J, Lee C, Goh D, Leichman E, Rotella K (2017). Sleep and Social-Emotional Develop- ment in Infants and Toddlers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 46:2, 236-246, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2016.1188701
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