Back to School Sleep Tips

Boy sleeping on the books in the classroom.

Let’s face it, sleep can get thrown off in the summer.  And that’s ok!  

Summertime can entail inconsistent schedules, late bedtimes, unenforced rules, AND plenty of fun!  We are more inclined to stay out a little later attending barbecues, FIREWORKS, catching lightning bugs, etc., which means we run into later bedtimes!

So, no matter what has happened over summer break, all is forgiven.  Now is the time to get your child back on track to ensure a successful school year, while keeping those memories and pictures close by.

Here are my top tips for getting back on track after summer vacation:

Pick a bedtime and stick to it

If bedtime has gotten really off track, move bedtime 15 minutes earlier every 3 nights, until you are at your desired time.  I recommend babies and toddlers (6 months – 5 years) go to sleep somewhere between 7:00-8:00 pm.  School-aged children can go to sleep between 8:00-9:00 pm, but some still need to go to sleep in the 7:00 hour.  Right after the dinner hour there is a natural dip in our circadian rhythm so that is a great time to begin the routine before they catch a second wind.

Keep in mind, when school starts, your kiddos are going to be tired those first few weeks, so an earlier bedtime in the beginning can help prevent overtiredness.  You want to make sure your child is getting at least 10 hours of sleep, so if they need to be up at 7:00, bedtime should be 9:00 at the latest.  Plus, remember to factor in the time it takes them to fall asleep and make any additional requests (water, potty, etc.).  

Early bedtimes are not only beneficial to out little ones, but they can be wonderful for all family members: the child goes to bed before becoming overtired and miserable (thus preserving the quality of sleep) and parents get to enjoy an evening to themselves. A bonus to an earlier bedtime is a few extra hours in the evening to spend by yourself or with a partner if you have one.  You need that time to unwind and watch TV that is not kid-friendly, eat junk food without having to tell someone “it’s spicy”, catch up on work, or do grown-up things you need to recharge your parenting batteries.  It’s important for your relationship with yourself, others, and for your kids.

Routine Routine Routine!

Bedtime routine may have gotten a little lax over the summer, so this will need to be tightened up as well. 

Bedtime routines act as a cueing system to the body and brain that sleep is near.  Think of the bath as a “warm up” to sleep.  I always recommend starting the routine with a bath or shower as it is a different activity than your child is used to doing all day.

The bedtime routine should take 20-30 minutes.   If it is any shorter, the body and mind won’t have time to prepare for sleep, and if it is any longer, it can get dragged on and confusing about when the routine is going to end. It should be very step-by-step, with no random playtime in the middle.  

Screen time should never be a part of the bedtime routine because it can interfere with melatonin production.  

I always recommend if there is more than one parent or caregiver in the evening, they both take turns putting the child to bed and doing all parts of the routine, so the child knows it can be done by anyone and can be flexible if one caregiver is not there.

Example of bedtime routine:

  1. Bath/shower
  2. Pajamas
  3. Brush teeth
  4. Read 1-2 books/song (optional)
  5. In bed!

“It’s the chart/timer’s fault!”

If your child is asking for extra requests, outside of what is in their bedtime routine, writing out a Bedtime Routine Chart and hanging it in their room can be effective.  For example, if a child is asking for an extra kiss and hug, as cute as that may be, it can become a stalling technique when it’s time to go to bed. Trust me, it’s not as cute the next day when everyone is tired and dragging.

If your child has a hard time with transitions, a timer can be your friend for keeping things on schedule.  Let’s say your child does not want to get out of the bath, then set a timer.  Or, she is playing with Magnatiles and does not want to clean up.  You can say, “In 2 minutes, when timer is finished, it will be time to clean up the Magnatiles.  We can play again tomorrow.”  This can help make the transition less abrupt.

Both are visual reminders and allows for kids to foster independence by using the tools and resources around them.  Plus, they take the blame off of you!

Shut down the screens

Along with the slack enforcement of bedtimes during the summer, we also tend to ease up on the rules surrounding screen time.  After all, the days are more unstructured and there is not homework to be done, so we may allow a little more leeway during the summer.

Little boy kid using tablet play internet online game, finger hand pointing at touchscreen, while lying under white duvet in the bedroom at night, bright screen light reflex on his face.

The issue with screens, whether from a phone, TV, computer, or tablet, is that they put out a large amount of blue light.  Our brains associate blue light with sunshine, or daytime, so screen time before bed time can have the unwanted effect of firing your child’s system back up when it should be shutting down (also applicable to adults!).

While we are on the subject of light, if your child’s bedroom is not equipped with black out blinds, this can make it harder to fall asleep when the sun is setting later in the summer months.

The blinds do not have to be fancy or expensive!  You can find options on Amazon for $30, or if you are concerned about aesthetics and willing to spend more money, there are plenty of color options besides black that still do the job. 

My personal favorite that I recommend to clients is Redi Shade simply because it’s easy to install and it gets the job done!

I hope you all had a wonderful summer vacation and that you are looking forward to a successful school year.  I promise that whatever age your child is or grade they are going into, nothing will help them begin the new school year with a better attitude, stronger focus, and positive outlook than getting good quality sleep.  They will be happier and ready to learn!

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