Summertime Back to School Sleep Tips
Summer Holidays in New Zealand includes Christmas and New Years; there may be trips away, extra guests, excitement and let’s face it, unless you’re a super-on-to-it parent, it’s likely that any routine you had for your child has gone right out the window. So in the interests of making it easier to get back on track in time for school, here are my summertime back to school tips.
Firstly don’t worry; it’s not unusual for bedtimes to sneak later and later over summer. It has a lot to do with the longer daylight hours. This extra light in the evenings interferes with the release of Melatonin (our ‘sleepy hormone’). So there’s that, and the fact that we feel the need to enjoy every bit of sun and warm weather while we can; especially when we don’t know how long it will last! However these later nights can often cause trouble when school starts at the end of January or the beginning of February.
I know it’s not the end of the month yet, but it really is a good time to start thinking about how to get your children back on some form of sleep schedule before the beginning of school year. So what should you do?
- Don’t wait. The night before school starts is not a good time to try and lay down the new/old law and have everybody in bed by 7 or 8 pm. A couple of months of late bedtimes along with the excitement of a new school year will make this a difficult place to start.
- Ease into it. At least two weeks before school begins, you should slowly start moving bedtime back to an appropriate time. By doing it this way, your child’s body will slowly adjust to going to bed earlier by the time school starts. So if your child has been going to bed somewhere around 8.30pm – 9pm for the past couple of months, start by bringing bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every 4 nights (if it’s much later, either start bringing it into line now or make the jumps 30 minutes every few nights).
- Time it right. I recommend a bedtime of between 7pm and 8pm for pre-school and school aged children right through to adolescents. You’ll know your child and how long they have to sleep in on a typical school morning. But consider this: if you constantly need to wake your child to get them up, then he/she is going to bed too late. Putting your child to bed at the same time every night will teach their body to sleep the needed amount of night time hours, so they can wake up feeling refreshed. There really is no need for an alarm clock if your child is going to bed early enough!
- Limit screen time. TV and video games right before bed are associated with an increase in the time it takes children to fall asleep, so those activities should be stopped at least an hour before bedtime, often more if they have trouble winding down.
- Involve your child. This can include toddlers all the way up to teens. For the little ones make a chart of the bedtime routine and go over it with them, both beforehand and at the time. Some good examples of bedtime routine activities include: a bath, getting into pjs, a glass of warm milk or a light snack (nothing with sugar or caffeine), books, happy thoughts or gratitude about their day and so on. The routine’s purpose is to act as a cue for your child’s body and brain; it lets them know that the time for sleep is near. Some extra tips: the routine should be in the same order each night and move in a step-by-step fashion. For young children, giving them a sticker for each step of the routine (on the chart) can keep it fun.
- Beat the buzzer. Setting a timer can be an effective way to keep your child’s routine on track. Make it a goal to get everyone ready and in bed for the night before the timer goes off. That way it’s not really YOUR call that they have to get ready for bed, it’s the timer’s! If they co-operate you can include a small reward or sticker, or a collection of stickers that add up to a bigger reward. A good length for a bedtime routine is about half an hour to 45 minutes (the older the child, the longer the routine to a maximum of 45 minutes).
And one last tip: make sure your child’s room is dark enough. This will help both at night and in the morning. The early sunrise can cause all of us to wake early so it makes sense to purchase some black out blinds or even hang a blanket over the windows to help keep the sun out.
P.S. if you’re still having issues with bedtime battles, night wakes or early mornings, contact me for a customised step-by-step plan to get your child’s sleep back on track. Take up my offer of a free 15 minute phone evaluation by booking HERE.