Summer is winding down. Your kid is heading back to school and those flexible bedtimes and lazy mornings have come to an end. No worries though. You have your plan down to get them back into their school routine. Sunday night you calmly stroll into your kid’s room at 8 p.m. and shout, “Go to bed now! School starts tomorrow!”
How did that work for you?
Protesting? Kicking and screaming? You child brandished a cape, insisted “Superheroes don’t need sleep!” and then “flew” off her bed into your torso?
We thought so. Getting your kid re-adjusted to his or her school bedtime is a gradual, thoughtful process. It’s also very important, not just for your sanity, but for your kid’s well-being.
“Without an appropriate amount of sleep at the beginning of the school year, kids are less attentive, they may appear to have focus issues and there can be behavioral problems,” says Jeffrey Richker, MD, a pediatrician in the Denver area.
If school has already started and your kids are still in summer mode, don’t panic. Just start this process now and keep it in your back pocket for next year. Or deploy it when weekend schedules throw a major wrench in your plan. Which brings us to our first point ...
Don’t Start a “Summer Schedule”
The easiest way to transition out of a summer sleeping schedule is to not start one in the first place. We know what you’re thinking, “Thanks, Captain Hindsight. Any more advice? Invest in Apple and Google, maybe?”
Fair. Just keep this in mind for next summer. We’re not suggesting you have the kids tucked in at 8:30 sharp every night of the year. Enjoy the extended daylight. And we recognize that this is easier with grade school-aged children than teens. But if you can keep your summer sleep routine close to your school routine, it makes the transition into the school year, well, not really a transition at all.
Plus, if you can get the kids in bed by about 8:30 in the summer guess who gets to enjoy some peaceful summer night porch and wine time? You. You’re on the porch. With wine. And no screaming children.
Two Week Countdown
For maximum effectiveness and everyone’s sanity, ease into the school sleep schedule.
“Slowly moving the bedtime back to 8 or 9 p.m. should start at least two weeks prior to the beginning of school,” says Dr. Richker.
The more you can get your kids asleep at their school bedtime before school starts the better. Here’s the formula: figure out what time they need to wake up in the morning, how much sleep they need each night (below), determine their school bedtime and slowly work their summer bedtime toward the school bedtime. Fifteen minutes earlier each night is a good pace if you can manage it.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following amount of sleep for different aged kids each day:
- Pre-schoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
- School-aged (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
Create a Nighttime Routine
Just as you want to ease your kids into their school sleep routine, you want to ease them into their nightly bedtime. Try not to rush them through chores, dinner, homework and a shower in quick succession before bed. It can negatively affect your kids’ ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
“A good bedtime routine includes dinner at home, family time after, and no electronics for two hours prior to bedtime,” says Dr. Richker.
Focus on quiet, relaxing activities like reading before bed. Also avoid caffeine and large meals before bedtime. (Hint: The same tips apply for adults, too.)
Weekends = Weeknights
Avoid the temptation to treat the weekends like a mini-summer in regards to sleep schedule. If you maintain a consistent, healthy sleep schedule during the week, then your child shouldn’t need the weekend to “catch-up” on sleep. This applies to you, as well, and it has a couple benefits. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule is good for your health and sleep hygiene, and you’re setting a good sleep example for your kid. If they see you slumbering until mid-morning on the weekend they will want to emulate that. Plus, you get to be a role model by just sleeping. This whole parenting thing isn’t so hard, is it*?
*Just kidding. It’s extremely hard.
Your life is probably full of schedules and routines, so why should sleep be different? With a little planning and consistency, getting back to school will be a breeze. Or at least you might have fewer tantrums where your child transforms into a sleep-deprived, toy-throwing, yelling-because-you-brought-the-wrong-color-yogurt zombie.