Alright, let me just start off here by saying, honestly and sincerely, no judgment for what might have gone down in the last couple of months. I know… I’m a sleep consultant and you may think that I’m going to chastise you for the late bedtimes, unenforced rules, inconsistent schedules, or any of the many “inadvisable” that may have taken place over your summer holiday.
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. 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 before they head back to school.
Set a bedtime and stick to it
A lot of parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend a bedtime somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 at night until the age of 12. There are two reasons why I think children should be in bed, and by that I mean sleeping, by 8:00 at night.
First, children 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 child needs to be up by 7:00 A.M. to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9:00 at the latest.
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 and to just do grown-up things to recharge those parenting batteries. It’s vital to your relationship with your partner and with your children.
Don’t leave it to the last minute
Hopefully you’re reading this while there’s still a week or so before school gets back in, because the easiest way to get back on track is little by little. If they’ve been going to bed at around 9:00 for the better part of their holiday, 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 holiday, 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. 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.
Turn off 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 Monster High.
Which, quite honestly, is as enticing for me as it is for my children.
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 child’s system back up when it should be powering down. Try to avoid any screen time for at least two hours before bed.
Side note, 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 than 8:00, and the only thing that simulates sunlight better than a TV screen is actual sunlight. If your child’s bedroom is still lit up when you’re putting them to bed, I suggest investing in a set of blackout blinds. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; have a look on Amazon or you can get something called non-adhesive window film, which is just plastic you can cut to size and slap up over the glass. Whichever way you choose to do it, get that sunlight out of the bedroom. It’ll make a world of difference, I promise you.
So there it is, folks! I hope you had yourselves a wonderful summer holiday, and that you are looking forward to starting school again. I promise you that, no matter what year 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.