The lazy days of summer are coming to the end, together with the long stretches of daylight, lemonade, grilling and pick-up games outside. As the season winds down, you may take a final getaway weekend with your family. Or you may just stay home and squeeze every bit of time before school starts.
Either way, there’s a good chance that your children are off their normal sleep schedule by now. That’s completely understandable, but it’s also something that needs to be remedied before the school bell rings. So I want to help equip you to get your children back into an age-appropriate and healthy sleep routine so that they wake up bright-eyed and alert for that first day of school. It’s not really an impossible task. It just takes a little forethought and a few days to implement changes.
You can shift your child’s bedtime back to the appropriate time for school nights either gradually or in cold way, you choose. If you do it gradually, then shift it in 30-minute increments over as many days as needed. Just do the math. Most elementary school-aged children need to be in bed by 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. to get the sleep they need each night.
Follow these recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics for total hours of sleep per-school and school-aged kids should get by age:
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours daily to promote optimal health. That includes naps.
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours daily.
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours daily.
If your child shows some resistance to going to bed earlier, wake him up in the morning at his new school day wake up time. If you prefer to go cold turkey, I recommend starting this process in the morning by waking your child up at his new school day wake-up time. That evening put him in bed at the appropriate time so he can get the recommended amount of sleep after a calm bedtime routine. He will be a little more tired and willing to go to sleep at his new bedtime.
The Benefit of Physical Activity for Sleep:
Getting physical activity each day is important for our sleep. During the school year it may get pushed aside when homework piles up. As weather permits, you can take a brisk walk around the neighborhood for 30 minutes after dinner or play catch. Just be sure your child is fitting in at least 30 minutes of exercise, ideally outside. This will help her go to sleep as well as improving her physical health.
However, while rough play – like wrestling on the bed for fun – is great for some kids, bring it to an end an hour before bedtime because it naturally stimulates your child and will keep her up longer. The same goes for strenuous physical activity. Choose puzzles, building toys, reading or other quiet activities in the hour before bedtime.
Create a Soothing Bedtime Routine:
Trust me; children thrive on routine even if they resist it at times. Sometimes we jettison our routines in the summer and need to put some structure back in place as school draws near.
Your child’s evening routine actually begins at dinnertime. Young children digest their food more slowly than adults and will need to eat two hours before bedtime in order to sleep soundly. After dinner you may clean up together and do something as a family.
Structuring your school-aged child’s soothing bedtime routine can be as simple as choosing three to four things that should happen every night in the same order right before your child goes to bed. This may include a bath or shower; brushing teeth; laying out clothes, shoes and the child’s backpack for the next day; and snuggles, along with a book or a story.
Depending on their age, your child may enjoy some independent reading time before you say goodnight to him. Just be sure to brush teeth and put pajamas on before you let him start to read in bed. Show your growing child your love and affection with snuggles, hugs and kisses. Turn off the light at bedtime and say goodnight.
The idea is to find a routine that suits your family and stick to it. Of course you will change it as your child grows, but don’t change it every week.
Make sure your kids are well-rested for the start of the school year so they can perform at their best.