The end of summer generally comes with mixed emotions – some kids are bummed to see the sunny days of school vacation come to an end, while others can’t wait to get back to the playground to see their friends! Whatever the scenario, one thing is certain – back to school means back to routines, and – if you’ve gotten a bit off-track over the summer – back to proper sleep schedules!
Here are five tips to help get sleep back on track this September!
Start the adjustment a couple of weeks early: If your child’s bedtime has been later-than-usual during the summer months, you’ll want to start the adjustment back to a “school bedtime” one-to-two weeks before school actually begins. Start by setting bedtime 15 minutes earlier, and set morning wake-up time 15 minutes earlier as well. After a few days, set it earlier by 15 more minutes. Continue this until you have reached the targeted bedtime for your child. This will help to ensure your kiddo is waking rested each day, having gotten all of the proper sleep that she needs, once September rolls around.
Stick to the back-to-school schedule: Don’t try to have your child “catch up on sleep” on the weekend after an exhausting and overscheduled week of late nights and early mornings. Most young children’s body clocks will not accommodate for late nights by sleeping in the next day (or three days later!), and instead they will simply wake at their usual time in the morning feeling tired, rather than having “caught up” on sleep as you had hoped they would!
Establish a regular bedtime routine (or get your old one back on track!): Start your child’s bedtime routine about 30 minutes before you want him to be in bed for the night, allowing a chance for winding down, and also implementing consistent sleep cues each night to help your child’s body and mind prepare for sleep. A great bedtime routine could include a bath and one or two bedtime stories (or specific reading time for older children) before tucking in for the night. I suggest that no books go into bed with your child, as this can distract from a proper bedtime and can cause overtiredness and troubles falling asleep. Keep reading time brief, and ensure no books are in bed once the lights are out!
Turn off technology: Limit television, video games, and other screen time during the day, and turn it off entirely at least one hour before bed (that goes for grown-ups too!) – the bright lights emitted from electronic screens can inhibit the production of melatonin (the naturally-occurring hormone that helps us fall asleep), and can rev up little brains that should be working on getting proper Zs! Ensure there is no technology in your child’s room and, for older kids with their own cell phones, I suggest implementing a “no phone in the bedroom after bedtime” rule.
Don’t overschedule - plan evenings with proper sleep in mind: When planning your evening activities, make sleep a priority. Count backwards from your child’s bedtime to allow time for homework, dinner, and other activities. I suggest eating together as a family whenever possible, so dinnertime can also be family time. If your child is still quite young (e.g. four-to-five years old) and needing an early bedtime (7/7:30pm), consider scheduling extracurriculars like soccer practice and swimming lessons for Saturday or Sunday mornings, rather than Tuesday or Thursday evenings , to ensure your child is not being overscheduled during the week and can get to bed at a proper time each night.
Erin Junker is a Professional Infant & Toddler Sleep Consultant, and owner of The Happy Sleep Company (thehappysleepcompany.ca). She works closely with tired parents to help them help their little ones get the healthy, restful sleep they need. Follow her at www.facebook.com/thehappysleepcompany and on Twitter @TheHappySleepCo, and let’s get your family the healthy, happy sleep you deserve!