With many pediatric patients heading back to school this month, we’re hearing from parents who are concerned about making the transition from a carefree summer to stricter school hours – particularly when it comes to sleep habits. If you’re willing to start a few weeks early, cycling back to a regular sleep schedule can be quite doable! Here’s what we recommend to families in our practice:
- Work to ADJUST BEDTIME. First, remember that all school-aged kids – even teenagers – need a solid nine hours’ sleep a night to perform at their best. With that in mind, begin moving kids’ target bedtimes earlier in increments, starting two weeks before school begins. Ditto for wake-up time (although we say go easy on how you wake the kids for the first week or so – maybe begin by simply leaving their door open to outside noise).
- BAN ELECTRONICS starting one hour before bedtime. We say this to adults, too – the stimulation of staring at an interactive screen works directly against the brain’s ability to wind down and get ready for sleep. Ideally, remove all electronic devices from younger kids’ bedrooms, and encourage teenagers to do so themselves to avoid the constant temptation to update social media, etc.
- RELAX THE MOOD. Younger kids often experience a burst of energy after dinner; let them run that out, and then consciously bring the mood down with a hot bath, story time, a talk in the hammock, even a simple card game. Older kids should be encouraged to finish up summer reading or just enjoy a book for pleasure – you could even encourage older kids to select a book for family reading and pre-bedtime discussion.
- EAT DINNER EARLIER. Enjoying a big meal before bedtime stimulates digestion and can work against sleep. And avoid all caffeine or sugary drinks up to three hours before hitting the hay.
- CREATE A COZY ROOM. Temperature is very important when it comes to getting quality sleep; better to be on the cool side than warm and stuffy, and ideally let lots of fresh air in. A fan can help too, with air circulation as well as noise mitigation. A chaotic room works against relaxation – so take 15 minutes and tidy up before bedtime. Use low lighting and – again – NO electronics are also key to an ideal sleeping environment.
- WALK THE WALK. As is true in most parenting matters, it’s best to practice what you preach when it comes to modeling good sleep habits. Stick to your own guidelines, set the tone for the household, and we are confident that your whole family will benefit!
Want more tips? Head to www.sleepfoundation.org