Now that the long and relaxing days of summer have come to an end, and regular school and work schedules are back in full swing, life can get hectic! And, what tends to slide when the rest of life’s activities get in the way? Sleep.
The thing is, it’s during this busy time of year when our lives seems chaotic and a bit upside down that we all need sleep the most! But, how? Between homework, extra-curricular activities, family time, and eating (oh, yeah, I almost forgot, we have to eat!!), proper bedtimes (for both kids and adults) can often get neglected.
Here are five ways to prioritize your family’s sleep to ensure you’re all getting the healthy rest you need:
1. Plan ahead: Maybe you’ve heard it a thousand times, but that’s because it warrants repeating: Planning ahead for school days, work days, and meals, is the best way to ensure you maximize both time with your family and time for proper sleep. Sit down (and make your partner sit down too!) one evening each week (for most families, Friday or Saturday evening works best), and prepare a list of meals for the following week. The next day, head to the store and buy all the groceries needed. Voila. Done. Now, rather than spending extra time stopping at the grocery store each night next week and racking your brain while standing in the frozen food aisle about what to have for dinner, your plan is already in place! What does that leave time for? Everything and anything but meal planning (because most people really don’t enjoy meal planning, so why do it EVERY day?!). This means more time at home with your family before little ones scoot off to bed for proper sleep. You can also save time in the mornings, and increase family time, by planning head and having children pick out clothes for the next day, packing school lunches together as a family, and getting breakfast foods ready to go!
2. Book extracurricular activities for weekends: Many of my clients ask me when the best time of day is to book activities like kinder-music and playdates (for infants and toddlers), and gymnastics and swimming lessons (for older children). For babies and toddlers, I recommend booking these classes around naptimes – so, if your child still takes a morning and an afternoon nap each day, book classes for mid-day (around 11:30am or noon). If your child is having just one nap per day, book classes in the morning around 9am when your little one is at his freshest and it won’t interfere with naptime. If one parent is still at home, you could even book these activities during the weekdays. For older, school-aged children, I recommend that activities, whenever possible, be planned for weekends. So often, I see small children who still require a considerably early bedtime having hockey practice, soccer games, and swimming classes well into the evening when they should be having a bath and hopping in to bed to get a full night’s sleep! Planning gymnastics lessons for Saturday mornings or skating lessons for Sunday afternoon can help to prioritize your child’s bedtime, especially during the week when your child needs lots of proper rest to be prepared for a full day of school.
3. Manage homework: Battles over homework can lead to family conflict and frustrated, exhausting evenings, and homework-stalling can lead to late bedtimes and sleeplessness for the whole family. Let your child wind down for a short period after school, but do try to get the work completed earlier rather than later, when your child is more likely to be tired and more easily frustrated. Ensure there is no social media, texting, or television available during homework time so that your child can concentrate on the task at hand. Finally, be available – don’t do your child’s work for her, but be there to help guide and give positive feedback and encourage your child.
4. Make the most of awake time: Particularly for working parents whose children attend daycare, or parents of school-aged children, it’s often the case that we only see our children for an hour or so in the morning, and a couple of hours each evening before bedtime rolls around. My advice is to ensure you’re making the most of this time. What does that mean? Put the phone down. So often during this limited weekday time that we have together, our little ones are craving attention and time with us, and we are inevitably distracted by the ring of a phone or the “ding!” of a text. So much so, that we often don’t even realize it. As much as possible, make a conscious effort to put your phone out of reach when your child arrives home from school and you arrive home from work, and concentrate on time together. Play a game, draw together, go outside, or have a snack together and ask your child “What was your favourite part of school today.” You will quickly become amazed at how much more open your child becomes and how much you learn about what is going on in their school life when they feel you are taking an active interest in their day. Further, especially for toddlers and younger school-aged children, those who have felt well-listened to and focussed-on during the day are more likely to have easier, more peaceful bedtimes, while children whose “love buckets” haven’t been filled up enough during the day are likely to protest more at bedtime or seek this attention during the night.
5. Make bedtime family time: In keeping with making the most of awake time, think of your child’s bedtime as a fun extension of awake time together, rather than considering it a chore. Give your child a bath each night, and play and chat about the day while your kiddo is splashing around (rather than answering emails during this time!). For younger children, help them learn about choices and independence by offering choices like which pajamas to wear, which toothpaste to use, and which books to read. And, yes, read together each night, and talk about the lessons being learned in the books or stories. It is pleasantly surprising just how significantly the time spent together at bedtime each night can bring a family back together each day.
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!