Whether it is the first day of school for the semester or you’re coming back from an extended break, it usually comes with a big wave of emotions for the child and their parents. For some children, the excitement and anxiety make them have trouble sleeping at night. While mom and/or dad are gearing back up for their second full-time job—keeping children relaxed, rested, and on schedule—here are some tips on getting your little ones to sleep well again so they can do their best in the classroom.
Why is it important to have a sleep schedule?
You might think getting your kids back on a sleep schedule isn’t that big of a deal, but it’s important.
There are a few reasons why having a sleep schedule is important. Sleep is associated with brain development, mental health, physical health, academic performance, emotional well-being, and growth. Studies have shown that children who get enough sleep tend to be more cooperative in school and with their peers than those who don’t get enough sleep. When we’re chronically sleep deprived, our brains can’t do what they’re supposed to do—for example: if you’re having trouble remembering things or you feel like you can’t focus, then chances are that your brain isn’t getting enough restful sleep.
Getting your kids back on track with their regular sleep schedule can help them be more successful when school starts, and it can also help you get off to a good start at work the next day.
Start adjusting the sleep schedule a week before school starts.
If your child is like most kids, they might be more than a little resistant to going to bed earlier for a good night’s sleep. But if you start adjusting the sleep schedule a week before school starts, your child will have time to adjust and will be less likely to resist. It may take several days to get used to their new schedule—so don’t give up.
Rely on your child’s internal clock.
The most important thing to remember when trying to get your child into a good sleep routine is that their internal clock is different from yours. You may set yours by the school bell or the sun, but your child might be governed by their favorite TV show or the iPad they’re glued to all day. And even more so than these external factors, everything else—including any external attempts at control—can make it harder for them to learn how to regulate themselves and fall asleep on time. So if you are serious about making sure your child learns healthy sleep habits, it’s best to not even bother attempting any “training” until after they have been able to fall asleep reliably on their own for several nights in a row (and even then, only gently reinforce whatever pattern appears).
Avoid big sleep changes the night before school begins.
Avoid big sleep changes the night before school begins (for example, if your child’s bedtime is 8:00 PM now, don’t move it to 7:00 PM). Your child will be adjusting to a new schedule, so these adjustments can be hard on kids and make them feel like they’re not in control of their own lives.
Establish a consistent bedtime routine
Establishing a consistent bedtime routine is one of the most important things you can do to help your kids get into a regular sleep schedule. A bedtime routine can also help your child fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, giving you all more rest and peace of mind.
Here’s how to make your bedtime routine:
- Try to have everyone in the family go to bed simultaneously every night. If this is impossible, try having each child go to bed at different times, so they do not compete for attention from their parents or siblings. You should also eliminate all technology from bedrooms; it’s known that light from screens can affect melatonin production, which helps us sleep (and stay asleep).
- Ensure everyone is physically active during the day—not just before bed. Think about activities like running around outside with friends or doing jumping jacks after dinner with mom or dad (who are probably tired too).
- Come up with fun ways for your children to wind down before going upstairs for quiet play time (or reading) until sleepy time rolls around again—and don’t forget yourself. For example: playing an instrument together as a family might be fun if everyone knows how; listening to books on tape while lying side by side on pillows could relax both you and your child at once; painting together could keep busy fingers occupied while encouraging creative expression.
Avoid late-night snacks.
If your child has a bedtime of 8:00 PM, you don’t want them eating anything after 7:30 PM—even if it’s a light snack like yogurt or fruit. A large meal will delay sleep, and sugary foods can cause blood sugar to spike and drop quickly, disrupting their sleep cycle. Healthy foods are best for this purpose—try nuts and dried fruits, whole grain crackers with peanut butter or cheese (talk to your pediatrician about appropriate amounts), and granola bars made with whole grains instead of refined sugar (again, check with your pediatrician before giving any snack that contains peanuts), etc. This is also an opportunity to model good habits for your children by ensuring that their food isn’t processed junk full of salt/sugar/fat but whole foods that give them balanced nutrition without disrupting their internal clocks.
If you add some structure to your child’s routine now, you can help set them up for a good night’s sleep, even after that first day back in the classroom.
If you want your child to sleep well and feel good during the school year, they must get into a regular sleep schedule now. The transition back to school is tough on kids’ bodies and minds, so anything we can do to help them feel more at ease when they return to class will be helpful.
One way we can help our kids transition into their new sleep schedule is by setting them up with structure around bedtime. Here are some ideas of what you might try:
- Have an earlier bedtime (about an hour earlier than usual) on the first night after school starts.
- Consider setting up a specific time in your routine where you put your child down for bed each day (e.g., 8 PM). You may also want to put out their pajamas at this time so that it becomes associated with getting ready for bedtime.
- If possible, try limiting screen time before going to bed; this might include TV or video games, as well as other digital devices such as tablets or smartphones—anything that keeps them awake longer than expected could impact their ability to fall asleep quickly later on (and could lead to trouble falling asleep again later).
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best way to get a child to sleep?
There is no right answer for every child, but here are some tips that may help:
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine. This could include reading books, singing lullabies, or taking baths together. If your child has an active imagination and isn’t ready for bed yet, try reading a story about going to sleep or tucking themselves into bed with their favorite stuffed animal.
- Have earlier nap times and later wake-up times at the start of the week than at weekends. This will help them get used to going down earlier in preparation for school days (and shift their schedules accordingly).
- Use visual cues like white noise machines that simulate waves crashing on beaches—this helps create an environment similar to when you’re sleeping under blankets instead of alone on an open beach.
What are some common sleep problems?
Sleep problems can be common in kids of all ages. You may notice that your child is having one or more of the following issues:
- Nightmares. Nightmares are bad dreams that cause the child to wake up in a panic, often screaming. Nightmares can be frightening for children and may make them afraid to go back to sleep. They may also have trouble falling asleep again after having a nightmare, which can lead to problems with getting enough sleep during the night.
- Waking up during the night and not going back to sleep easily. If your child is having trouble going back to sleep after waking up during the night, it may be because of a difficult or stressful event in his life. It’s also possible that he gets bored and restless at bedtime, leading him to wake up several times during the night.
- Waking up too early or too late. If your child is waking up too early or too late, it may be because of an underlying health condition or because he has developed a bad habit. For example, if you force your child to wake up at the same time each morning, he may be unable to sleep on weekends. If his bedtime routine is inconsistent or irregular, he may have trouble falling asleep at night and waking up in the morning.
- Snoring. If your child snores, it may be because he has an obstruction in his airway. This is especially true if the snoring is loud, high-pitched, and occurs at night. It’s also possible that your child has a habit of resting his tongue on the back of his teeth while he sleeps—this can cause a mild obstruction to develop over time.
- Sleepwalking or talking while they’re asleep. Some children may talk or walk in their sleep, especially when they’re young. This can signify sleep deprivation, although it’s not always a cause for concern. If your child is still talking in his sleep at age 10 or 11, it could indicate something underlying like ADHD or narcolepsy.
How much sleep does my child need?
If you’re wondering how much sleep your child needs to get through the day, the answer is more than you think.
- According to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages 6 to 12 need about 10 hours of sleep. That’s much more than the average adult (7-8 hours) or adolescent (9-10 hours).
We hope that this post has helped you understand the importance of getting your kids into a regular sleep schedule. When it comes to helping your children get more rest, there are many things you can do—and some that you shouldn’t.