Sleep routines for children can change a great deal over the long summer holidays. Later nights, sleeping in, more variability and sleep-wake schedules, more screen time, less focus on a pre-bed wind down routine are some of the common changes.
While many kids and teens adjust easily to the school sleep routine, others may benefit from some structured adjustments to create a great routine around sleep.
The week before school starts is a perfect time to bring some routine and normality back in preparation for the school year starting. Here's some suggestions:
1. Gradually shift the sleep routine. If your child needs to get up earlier and go to bed earlier during the school term, start by having them up out of bed earlier by 15-30 minutes each day this week. Parents are often tempted to get their kids into bed earlier as a first step. However, we find that advancing the morning rising time can be the best way to go initially, rather than enforcing an early bed time. Think of rising time as an anchor for the body clock; if you gradually advance the rising time, you will be able to time the bedtime earlier within a couple of days and the child will more easily be able to fall asleep. It is often the case that an enforced earlier bedtime straight away will be met with resistance and can make falling asleep difficult as the body clock is not used to sleeping at this early time straight away.
2. Morning sunlight is a great way to advance the body clock (ie to make falling asleep and getting up happen at earlier times). In combination with tip 1, if you and the kids can have breakfast outside in sunlight or go for some morning exercise, this can really assist the process. Sunlight turns off melatonin production in the brain and helps us to wake up. The opposite applies in the evening- limit close screen time (tablets, phones) to less than an hour if possible.
3. Consistency. Once the correct bed time and rising time has been reached, keep it consistent even on the weekend. This will encourage the new timings to stick and to become more natural.
4. Wind Down to create a buffer between the day and the night. Help your child to establish a wind down routine that encourages relaxation and sends a cue to the body and brain that sleep time is approaching. Reading to your child, or them engaging in silent reading is a great wind down. Colouring-in or quiet play may also be relaxing for your child. Gentle music, or an audio book are other options.
5. Create a helpful sleep space. Make sure your child's bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark. Ideally, no screens in the bedroom.
6. Get the day right. Recipe for good sleep = active, happy, balanced days with good food and time outside.
If you've implemented the above but have a child that is still not sleeping well, or if implementing the above has been challenging, give Sleep Matters a call. Also see our other blogs on child and teen sleep.
Thanks for reading!
The Sleep Matters team.
Printable copies of the above sleep tips here.
Sleep Matters Blog