As the summer is drawing to a close, it’s time to recognize that Back-to-School is just around the corner. If you feel that things have gotten off routine this summer, then it’s a good idea to start getting things back on track. In a few weeks, our children will be exposed to new challenges and begin to learn new skills and more about the world around them. While it may seem like a no-brainer, research has demonstrated that children who are getting quality sleep, have better academic performance, and are also more optimistic in general, which is a healthy attitude when learning new skills. It’s also important to note that daily activities, diet and screen time can impact academic achievement as well. To help our kids be there best on school days, it’s important to know how much sleep they should be getting. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that preschoolers (3-5 yrs) be getting 10-13 hrs sleep a day and school aged (6-13 yrs) children get around 9-11 hrs of sleep a day. Consider the time that your child needs to wake up for the day to be ready for school and count the hours backwards to determine what is an appropriate bedtime for them. Here are a few other things that you can do to help prepare your kids with good sleep hygiene and make them back-to-school ready.
- Get bedtime back on track
It’s understandable that with longer daytime hours in the summer, bedtimes can often slide later too. At least a week before school starts, begin moving bedtime earlier in 10-15 min increments to allow your children to adjust to going to sleep at a more reasonable bedtime, if they have been going to bed much later.
- Maintain regular evening and bedtime routines
I’ve said it in other blog posts and interviews. Maintaining a regular routine is going to be your biggest tool in keeping your kids well adjusted and well rested. Encouraging physical activity in the evening and regular mealtimes will also help tire out kids as the bedtime routine time begins.
- Limit electronic use/screen time exposure 1 hour before bedtime
Its understandable that screen time is becoming a more common thing among school aged kids, especially if they are using tablets for school work. It’s understandable that some homework assignments may require electronic device usage. However, you should control when your children are using these devices, limit access for younger children about 1 hour leading up to bedtime, and keep it out of the bedroom. There is too much temptation to continue playing games and chatting and texting with friends on mobile devices late into the night. Furthermore, the blue light from the screen inhibits melatonin production and therefore interferes with what should be happening normally in line with the circadian rhythm.
- Create a conducive sleep environment
People sleep best in a cool, dark environment. Ideally the temperature should be between 18-22 C (68-72 F). If it is still particularly sunny outside when you want your children to be sleeping, invest in good quality black out shades to eliminate as much light exposure as possible. Some children may be more comfortable with a night light in the room if they have some apprehension about being in the dark alone. If you get a night light in the room, choose something in the red-amber light spectrum, to avoid wavelengths that interferes with melatonin production.
- Encourage healthy diet
Dietary issues, such as Iron and Zinc deficiency can often lead to fatigue and poor sleep habits. It’s a known fact that too much sugar and caffeine can affect your child’s behavior, and possible also make it difficult to sleep. Limit caffeine intake as much as possible. The caffeine half life in adults is 5-6 hrs, and due to body weight and metabolism, it has a longer half life in children. Having a well-balanced diet is well known to promote overall well being and will keep your kids alert when needed.
- Encourage regular physical activity
This is one of those tips that we should certainly be encouraging for our kids year-round. Their bodies are meant to be moving, using up energy, and learning/training to do more complex activities. Not only will help them focus when its time to learn other new skills, but it will also prime their bodies for sleep when the time is right.
- Discuss expectations with your children and encourage active communication
As our kids get older they become better negotiators and will expect an explanation for everything they don’t readily want to do. In all fairness, we should explain why sleep is important to their health and how it impacts their daily mood as well as their performance in school, sport, and interactions with friends and family. Be clear in your expectations around bedtime rules and ensure that your child understands them. Set limits and be consistent.
Finally, be a good role model and practice some of what you preach. If you want your child to put away their electronics before bedtime, put yours away too. Our kids lead by example, so if you’re setting a good one, they’re likely to follow in your footsteps.
 Gruber R et al. 2016. School-based sleep education program improves sleep and academic performance of school-age children. Sleep Med. 21:93-100.
 Lemola S., et al. 2011. Sleep quantity, quality and optimism in children. J Sleep Res. 20:12-20.
 Faught EL, et al. 2017. It is knows The combined impact of diet, physical activity, sleep and screen time on academic achievement: a prospective study of elementary school students in Nova Scotia, Canada. Int. J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 14(1): 29.