Back to School

School is back in session! Going from long stretches of sunshine, swimming, and lemonade to the classroom can be a difficult transition for our children. There’s a good chance your little ones are still adjusting to their normal sleep schedule, which is completely understandable but also something that needs to be remedied.

Getting our children back to a healthy, age-appropriate sleep routine is imperative not only for growth and development but to also optimize their learning process. Providing our children with the tools to be bright-eyed and bushy tailed once the morning bell rings is not an impossible task! It It’s not really an impossible task. It just takes a little planning and a few days to create change. 

Shifting Back Bedtimes

We all know summer time means late nights and thrown off sleep schedules. So, the first step is to start moving back the bedtime. Whether you want to shift your child’s bedtime back gradually or cold turkey is completely up to you. If you decide to do so gradually, begin shifting the time back in 30-minute increments. If your child was going to sleep at 10:00pm, make tonight’s bedtime 9:30pm, tomorrow’s bedtime 9:00pm, and so on. Most elementary kids should be in bed by 7:30 or 8pm in order to sleep an adequate amount. 

Review these age-based recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to see how much sleep you child should be getting every night. To summarize:

  • Children ages 3-5 years old should be sleeping 10-13 hours per day, including naps.
  • Children ages 6-12 years old should be sleeping 9-12 hours per night.
  • Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 years old should be sleeping 8-10 hours per night.

If you would rather go cold turkey on this one, it is recommended to wake your child in the morning at his or her normal school day wake-up time and that night put him or her to bed at the recommended age-appropriate bedtime, after a relaxing bedtime routine, of course. When done this way, the child will typically be sleepier from the early start and willing to fall asleep at the new bedtime.

Limiting Electronics

Sleep expert Gary Trock, M.D. notes that it can take 10-14 days for children to completely readjust to a normal sleep pattern. To help ease that transition, Dr. Trock also advises parents to set limits on the use of electronics, particularly prior to bedtime. No electronics, including TV, iPad, tablets, cell phones, and video games, should be used for two hours before bedtime. It may be tempting to allow our kids to wind down with electronics, but we are actually encouraging the disruption of sleep by doing so. Our circadian rhythm, which is driven by hormones such as melatonin and cortisol, regulates sleeping and feeding patterns. When blue light is emitted by our electronic devices, melatonin, which helps us sleep, is directly suppressed.

General Recommendations

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers some tips to ensure that children get adequate rest, particularly following long breaks in normal bedtime routines:

  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine in a relaxed environment
  • Make the bedroom dark, quiet, and slightly cool
  • Remove any electronics from the bedroom, ensuring there is no use two hours prior to bedtime
  • Wake at the same time every morning
  • Avoid any food or drink that contains caffeine
  • Avoid any rigorous exercise for about 2 hours before bedtime 
  • Until the child is fully readjusted, try to avoid allowing him or her to sleep in on the weekends. This can throw off any progress made.

After a long summer, it can be a process to reset our children’s biological clocks. But a lack of sleep can adversely affect attention span, physical health, and performance. So, getting our children back on track is key!

 

References:

Thompson, M. (2018). How circadian rhythms work. Retrieved from: https://www.howsleepworks.com/how_circadian.html

 

West, K. (2017). Adjusting your child’s sleep schedule for the start of school. US News and World Report. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/wellness/for-parents/articles/2017-07-21/adjusting-your-childs-sleep-schedule-for-the-start-of-school