After a summer of being essentially schedule-free – or at least being rather lax on schedules – having to conform to a certain bedtime and waking time can come as a bit of a shock to parents and kids alike. That said, school has an established start time and your son or daughter needs to be up, dressed, fed, and alert by the time the bell rings.
While many parents allow their children to go without a bedtime right up until the first day of school, there are many drawbacks to that strategy. Primarily, kids end up somewhat jet-lagged for the first several days. This means that they begin the school year with a disadvantage when compared to the children who are well rested. Exhausted children have a harder time adapting to their new schedules, interacting socially and learning the ropes for the new year.
If you want to help your child ease into the schedule required throughout the school year, there are some very handy tips that can assist you along the way. These can help your son or daughter to set a school-time sleep schedule, and can also improve sleep hygiene throughout the rest of the year.
- Around 2 weeks ahead of the first day of school, gradually create a school timing routine that will align with the one that will be used during the school year. Every night, make bedtime just a little bit earlier and every morning make wake-up time earlier by the same amount. The time increments should be determined so that by the start of the school year, your child’s schedule will allow for the amount of sleep needed for that age and to begin the school day on time.
- Keep a set schedule. Once you have established the bedtime and waking time, stick to it. This means that the same schedule should be used every day of the week. Weekends shouldn’t be used to “catch up.” With a proper bedtime and waking time routine, your child should already be getting all the sleep he or she needs, so the need to catch up shouldn’t be there.
- Create a winding down routine ahead of bedtime. A healthy bedtime routine isn’t just a matter of being in bed with the lights off at the right time. The time leading up to shutting out the lights is very important, too. All screen time (TV, mobile devices, video games, etc) should cease an hour before bedtime in favor of quieter activities. These can include bath time or washing, brushing teeth and hair, a bedtime story for younger kids, or reading time for older ones. This helps to prepare the body and mind to be restful once it’s time to sleep.
- Create a peaceful environment in the child’s bedroom. The best place for a restful and solid sleep includes a comfortable bed, soft and snuggly bedding, a dark room, and a temperature that is slightly on the cool side without being cold.
- Avoid large amounts of food close to bedtime. A heavy meal before bedtime can make it tough for a child to fall asleep. Light snacks won’t typically cause any harm, but they should be kept small.
- Avoid caffeine. Caffeinated drinks and food – such as soft drinks, coffee, tea, energy drinks, energy shots and even chocolate – should be limited after noon and entirely avoided in the evening. Ideally, this stimulant should be avoided completely to eliminate its impact on the sleep schedule, but if it is consumed, try to keep the timing right.
- Set a good example. One of the best ways to make sure your child keeps up a positive and effective sleep schedule is for you to live by the same rules. If you establish your own regular sleep habits, it will be much more natural for your child to do the same.
The earlier you begin the efforts to create a sleeping and waking schedule with your child, the better prepared he or she will be once the first day of school rolls around. While it may not seem like the most fun thing to do before classes start, it will make a big difference when they’re expected to sit at a desk and focus first thing in the morning.