It’s that time of year again! The shopping malls are filled with parents stocking up on things their kids will be needing this September. The excitement of the new school year, new friends, new teachers, and new subject matter are upon us as the summer is winding to a close. So, now is the time to focus on getting your child(ren) well rested so that their minds are prepared to absorb all the new information they’ll soon be learning. It’s really easy to allow a good sleep routine to slide in the summer due to longer daytime hours and vacation. So long as children are meeting their age specific sleep needs and are well rested, they are usually very flexible in managing a change with regard to things like later bedtimes on special occasions or during travel. Here are your back to school sleep tips for a well rested and ready to learn brain:
- Dial back bedtime. If you know that your child has been going to bed later than he should be for his age, then it’s time to start making bedtime a little earlier each day to get it back to being within a reasonable age appropriate time. Click here for a link to the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations on age specific sleep requirements. Generally, school aged children (6-13 years) should be getting approximately 9-11 hours of sleep overnight, which makes ideal bedtime anytime between 7:00 – 9:00 pm. Teenagers, aged 14-17, should get about 8-10 hrs. If you know that your child has been going to bed later than he/she should for his/her age, then it’s certainly time to get them back on track.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. For most kids going to school for the first time, they may be used to a daytime nap, and will no longer have the opportunity to do so. This may mean that in order to compensate for that amount of sleep, you may have to encourage an earlier bedtime. “Catching up” on the weekend is not recommended to be a long term solution, although that doesn’t mean that sleeping in on the weekend is a bad thing. However, if you notice that your child wants to stay in bed all day long on weekends, it’s a good indication that your child isn’t getting his/her fill of restorative sleep and would benefit from an earlier bedtime on a regular basis.
- Create a reliable bedtime routine. Just as you did for your baby, your older school aged child or teenager still benefits from a nightly bedtime routine. As kids age, this routine will evolve. However, it’s really beneficial for younger kids in particular to keep a night-time ritual that involves story telling to help their body prepare for sleep. It’s also a great way to stay connected with your child and learn about what the greatest or most challenging parts of their day were if there wasn’t enough time over dinner.
- Limit “screen time” and blue light exposure before bedtime. While you will hear many recommendations about creating a relaxing bedtime routine, sitting on the couch or bed watching TV or playing with video games or other electronics is not recommended as a “relaxing” technique before bedtime. Exposure to blue light inhibits the natural production of melatonin, which begins signaling the body to prepare for sleep. Blue light is emitted from all electronic screens, so limit exposure as you are helping your child(ren) prepare themselves for sleep. Remember to also set a good example. Put you own smartphone away during the bedtime routine. If your child requests a night light, avoid those that are blue. Try to find one that is amber coloured or in the red spectrum.
- Avoid sugar and caffeine before bedtime. For obvious reasons, it’s not recommended to have a lot of sugary treats or caffeinated drinks before bedtime. Caffeine within 6 hrs of bedtime can interfere with normal biological and sleep patterns.
- CONSISTENCY, CONSISTENCY, and CONSISTENCY. Remember it may take as little as 3 days to make a change, but typically about 3 weeks to make a habit. The sooner your children’s sleep gets back on track the better prepared they’ll be to take on the world!