3 steps parents can take to get kids on track for optimal sleep through the school year.
Summer is the best season in a child’s life. There is no school, the days are longer, and it usually means lots of outdoor activities such as water play and family barbecues. But it also means later bedtimes and flexible schedules. And thus going back to school and staying on track can be a rude awakening for many families. But enacting a school-ready sleep schedule will set your kids up for a successful year.
As children have returned to school, the main thing parents need to focus on is getting the child adequate sleep based on their developmental needs. School-aged kids need between 10.5-12 hours of sleep a night and many are not getting quite enough sleep, especially in the summer. And it can be hard to shift from a 10 p.m. bedtime to 7 or 8 p.m. as school starts so I recommend to families, to shift the bedtime up in 15-minute increments every night until the optimal bedtime is reached. This process may take a couple of weeks so it’s important to start early especially if the summer bedtime is way off schedule from school bedtime. And this process can be done if your child’s school has already started and they are still having a too-late bedtime.
For example, if a 7-year-old child needs to be awake at 7 a.m. to get ready for school, the latest they should be asleep by is 8:30 p.m. And if the child is in the higher range of the spectrum of sleep need, for example, they ideally thrive on 12 hours of sleep, they would need to be asleep by 7 o’clock.
It can be hard for many families that get home from work at 6 p.m. to have their children asleep by 7 p.m. But sleep is so crucial to the growing brain and prioritizing sleep is essential for our youth because it is during sleep that the brain cleans itself and eliminates waste products. It organizes all the information that was learned that day. It processes memories. So when kids (even adults) don’t get adequate amounts of it, it halts that cleaning and organizational process, and those waste products can accumulate and lead to potential issues later in life.
So to solve this dilemma, try to plan ahead so that nighttime and the bedtime routine can be prioritized by having prepped or prepared meals ahead of time. This way, as soon as you get home, you can sit down to dinner and then have some family time before moving towards a bedtime routine.
It is important to have an established bedtime routine and sleep schedule where the same things are done every night that signals and cues the child’s brain and body that it is time to settle down and get ready for sleep. That can include going into the room, turning on a lamp, reading a few books, cuddling, and then tucking in the child, saying good night, and leaving.
Often children stall at bedtime because they either don’t want their time to end with their parent or caregiver but often it’s because they are no longer sleepy. They are tired but no longer sleepy. Just as adults have a second wind where they are tired and then get a text message or email and get lost in that and soon realize they are no longer sleepy, the same can happen with kids. But often the problem is that parents are starting bedtime too late and the child was truly sleepy much earlier. So, ‘the shenanigans’ start to delay bedtime. These include, I need one more hug, one more kiss, I need to go potty again, I have a bug bite and need a bandaid!
Starting bedtime earlier definitely helps this issue but also having a checklist of all the things that need to be done before bedtime is beneficial. Place on this list anything that is included in the bedtime routine as well as anything that the child typically requests as you are trying to leave the room. For example, it can have on the list, put pj’s on, brush teeth, a sip of water, read books, sing songs, scratch back, hugs and kisses. After the bedtime routine is completed, you can have the child check off all the items or the parent can check them off. It is a good reminder for the parent as well that all of the child’s needs have been met. So that when your child asks for one more sip of water as you are trying to leave the room, you can say, “We took care of that sweetie. I love you and will see you in the morning. Good night.”
Download the Sleepless in Nola Bedtime Checklist here.
Wake time is equally important, especially on weekends. Often parents will allow their children to sleep in on the weekends but that then affects when the child will be capable of falling asleep that evening. Remember they need 10.5–12 hours of sleep at night and thus about 12–13.5 hours of being awake. If they sleep in to catch up on sleep debt, that night they will not be able to fall asleep until later, and if a later bedtime happens on a Sunday night, for example, the child still needs to be awake at 7 a.m. on Monday to get ready for school. The child will not have their full requirement for sleep and will be in debt again.
If you are struggling, reach out for professional help BEFORE it feels too overwhelming. If you feel like something is not right, and you know what you “should” be doing but can’t make the change, reach out for help. Or if you have realized you are in too deep and don’t know where to start, reach out for help. When nighttime feels like a nightmare and you are struggling every single night, reach out for help. You want nighttime to be an enjoyable experience for the family, an end to the day, and a looking ahead to the future. Plus parents need time to get the things done to get themselves ready for the next day and get adequate sleep for themselves. So having a set, early bedtime for the child makes things more predictable for them and children thrive on routine and consistency. Having someone guide you and coach you through the process makes it significantly more manageable. And sometimes it’s a simple fix and many families wonder why they didn’t reach out sooner.
There is a stigma associated with asking for help in all aspects of parenting. There are 20–30 page manuals for almost every electronic device however with parenting you are expected to know what to do out of the gate. Of course, there are books and the internet and lots of friends and family that are ready to offer advice. However, that information can be contradictory and can leave parents feeling even more confused. And that’s where a coach can come in. Dr. Vyas with Sleepless in NOLA offers a personalized approach for families and gives them advice based on their child’s developmental needs as well as the parent’s parenting style and helps them develop a plan that is right for them as well as guides them on how to implement it.
Reach out for more information and make a free consultation appointment with Dr. Vyas at sleeplessinnola.com/consult.
The bottom line to getting your kids to be the best they can be for their childhood as well as into adulthood, you must prioritize a sleep schedule for your child. It is so crucial. Better things will come along that make sleep seem so mundane. But if you make sleep hygiene, sleep habits, and routines for your kids consistent and reliable, not only will they excel in school settings but they will excel in life settings!! And it is never too late to start!!
Looking for more back-to-school help? Here are 6 Ways to Prepare Your Kids for the New School Year.