Back to School Sleep Tips : Help Your Child be ready (2021)
Updated 1 March 2021 (originally published 16 September 2020)
Alright, let me just start off here by saying, no judgment for what might have gone down in the last couple of months.
I know… I’m a child sleep consultant and you may think that I’m going to tell you off for the late bedtimes, inconsistent schedules, or any of the many naughty things that may have taken place over your summer holidays and during lock down.
But I get it. I really do.
I’m a mother myself and I know how precious these summer months are. You want to squeeze every minute of joy and togetherness you can from these glorious days. If it’s a choice between consistent bedtimes and staying up to watch as a family to watch Netflicks
That’s no choice at all.
So no matter what might have happened over the summer holidays and during lock down, all is forgiven. The mission now is to get your child back on track so that they can get back to sleep at a reasonable hour the day now they have gone back to school.
So I hope you’ll keep reading without fear of any finger wagging or talk of what you should have done differently.
I promise you, it’s not in here.
Set a Time For Bed and Stick to it
So first things first. What time should your kids be going to bed? Well, a lot of parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend somewhere between 7:00pm and 8:00pm at night.
They’re even more surprised when I tell them that I suggest they keep that bedtime until their child is about 12 years old.
There are two reasons why I think kids should be in bed, and by that I mean sleeping, by 8:00 at night.
1 – Kids Need Sleep
First, kids need at least 10 hours of sleep a night.
An extra hour or two on top of that is never a bad thing, but you obviously have to make those adjustments based on your own observations.
Regardless, if your toddler needs to be up by 7:00 A.M. in order to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9:00 at the latest.
Factor in the time it takes them to get to sleep after they get into bed, plus the inevitable request for a glass of water or a totally silly insistence that they need to use the toilet half an hour after you close their door, and 8:00 is pretty much the latest they can get to bed and still get the sleep they need.
2 – Mummy and Daddy Time
Second, you, as a parent, and your partner if there’s one in the picture, need to exist child-free for a few hours a day. You need to be able to watch TV with swear words and sexual innuendo, to be able to eat some junk food without fear of being spotted, to just do grown-up things and to recharge those parenting batteries.
It’s vital to your relationship with your partner and with your kids.
Alright, so now that we know when to put our kids to bed, let’s move on to the significantly more difficult issue of how.
Don’t leave it to the last minute.
If they’ve been going to bed at around 9:00 for the better part of their holidays, try moving bedtime up by about 15 minutes every 4 days until you’re back to their normal bedtime.
If this requires a little deception on your part by adjusting the clocks in their room, you just go ahead and get deceptive. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means.
Establish a Bedtime Routine
If you had an effective bedtime routine before your summer holidays and the pandemic threw everything into upheaval, then try to re-implement it as much as possible.
Familiarity will definitely help your child settle back into the schedule quicker and with less resistance than trying out something new.
On the other hand, if this is your first go at implementing a bedtime routine, let me just stress how much easier a repetitive, predictable bedtime routine can make your life.
When your child’s body and brain start to associate things like baths, stories, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it cues up their melatonin production, making sleep come easier.
I seriously can’t recommend bedtime routines highly enough.
Use a Timer
Of course, things like baths and stories are super fun, so there is a tendency for your toddler to try and negotiate for more time in the bath, or one more story.
If you find yourself constantly having to play bad cop, a timer can be your best friend for keeping things on schedule, and as silly as it may sound, takes the blame off of you and puts it on the timer.
Mum can be reasoned with, but the timer is downright unwavering.
Turn of those screens
Along with the slack enforcement of bedtimes during the summer, we also tend to ease up on the rules surrounding TV, video games, or otherwise staring at screens in the hours leading up to bedtime.
After all, there’s no homework to be done, so maybe we can allow a little leeway for an extra episode of In The Night Garden or Peppa Pig
(Which, quite honestly, is as enticing for me as it is for my kids. )
The thing about screens, whether they’re phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they put out a massive amount of blue light.
Our brains associate blue light with sunshine, and therefore daytime, so screens before bed can actually have the unwanted effect of firing your kid’s system back up when it should be powering down.
Try to avoid any screen time for at least two hours before bed.
This also applies to adults, so if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try reading instead of watching TV before you turn in.
Turn to the dark side
And while we’re on the subject of light, for many of you living in the northern areas of the planet, you may notice that it doesn’t get dark until significantly later at 8:00pm, and the only thing that simulates sunlight better than a TV screen is actual sunlight.
If your child’s bedroom is still lit up like a Christmas tree when you’re putting them to bed, I suggest investing in a set of blackout blinds.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can get a six-pack of blinds on Amazon, or even something called non-adhesive window film, which is just plastic you can cut to size and slap up over the glass.
If you’re concerned about aesthetics and willing to spend the money, there are plenty of color options besides black that still block out the light. Whichever way you choose to do it, get that sunlight out of the bedroom.
It’ll make a world of difference, I promise you.
Having experienced some leniency regarding bedtime can suddenly transform your child into an astoundingly sharp lawyer.
Arguments for why they should be allowed to stay up later are likely to be heard for at least a few days and, potentially, the next eight or ten years. Luckily, parenting is not a democracy.
It is a glorious dictatorship where “Her Highness, the Momma,” makes all the rules.
Don’t give in to the pressure, because as I said earlier, this 8:00pm bedtime is going to be in place for several years. The sooner they accept that as the norm and their summertime hours as a special circumstance, the easier this whole bedtime thing will be for you and for them.
So there it is, folks! I hope you had yourselves a wonderful summer holiday, and that your children are safe and back in school or starting school again soon.
I promise you that, no matter what grade they’re headed into, nothing will help them go into the new school year with a better attitude and positive outlook than getting plenty of sleep.
And if this is your first experience with the kids out of the house since you became a mum, oh baby, let me tell you about the sweet days ahead. (Once you’ve gotten over the initial heartbreak, of course.)
Jennifer L. Vriend, PhD Fiona D. Davidson, MA Penny V. Corkum, PhD Benjamin Rusak, PhD, FRSC Christine T. Chambers, PhD Elizabeth N. McLaughlin, PhD (2013) Manipulating Sleep Duration Alters Emo- tional Functioning and Cognitive Performance in Children – Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 10, 1 November 2013, Pages 1058–1069, https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jst033
Mindell J, Lee C, Goh D, Leichman E, Rotella K (2017). Sleep and Social-Emotional Develop- ment in Infants and Toddlers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 46:2, 236-246, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2016.1188701 Sleep efficiency (but not sleep duration) of healthy school-age children is associated with grades in math and languages – Gruber, Reut et al. Sleep Medicine , Volume 15 , Issue 12 , 1517 – 1525.