Ah, summer vacation, the time when we let our hair down and enjoy the sun ‘n fun. It’s also a time when we tend to relax the rigidity of the school year schedule and make some room to breathe. Bedtime routines are often collateral damage, are they not?
Although I’m a sleep consultant, you’ll find no finger pointing here. I get it, I really do! I’m a mom, too, and summer evenings are the time for firefly catching, lawn concerts, and fireworks shows. In the summer, if the choice is between experiencing one of the many fun evening activities or a consistent bedtime, bedtime is going to lose out. No judgment here, my friends.
However, with the start of school looming, it’s time to ease back into those regular bedtime routines, and the sooner you begin, the better.
Set a bedtime and stick to it
The first thing you need to do is determine what time your kids need to go to bed. Many of my parents are taken aback when I recommend a bedtime between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. Yep, it’s tough, with homework, after-school activities and squeezing in family dinners, but school days are long, and your children need at least 10 hours of sleep a night. If you’re able to squeeze in an hour or two more, that’s even better.
Backtrack and take a look at the time your kids need to be out the door to head to school or daycare in the morning. For example, if your little one needs to be up at 7:00 a.m to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9:00 p.m. at the very latest. Don’t forget to factor in the time it takes your kids to get ready for bed and perform their nightly bedtime routine, or the inevitable request for a glass of water 30 minutes after lights out. All things considered, 8:00 p.m. is really the latest they should be going to bed to ensure a healthy night of sleep.
Even if you’re someone who works well under pressure, re-establishing a school year bedtime routine is not something you want to leave until the last minute. Try starting the routine somewhere around two weeks out from the start of school to allow you to make the changes to bedtime gradually.
If your kids have been going to bed around 9:00 p.m. for the majority of their summer vacation, move bedtime up by 15 minutes every four days until they’re back to their usual bedtime. And if you have to “trick” your kids into their routine by changing the clocks in their rooms, go for it!
Establish a bedtime routine
The best way to jump into the new school year is to have your family routine nailed down. If you had an effective bedtime routine before summer vacation, go ahead and re-implement it. The familiarity of routine will help your children settle back into their school bedtime schedule more smoothly than introducing something new.
If this is the first time you’re implementing a bedtime routine, know that we’re looking at the end goal here. Not only will a consistent bedtime routine make your days — and nights — much easier, but your child will reap the benefits of healthy sleep. When your child’s brain and body begin to associate things like baths, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, and reading books — done in the same order, at the same time, each night — it cues their melatonin production, making sleep come more naturally. Honestly, I can’t recommend bedtime routines enough.
Use a timer
If lollygagging is an issue, consider implementing a timer into your child’s nightly routine. With a timer, your kiddo can see where they’re at in the routine, and you can get out of being the “bad guy” with time enforcement — it’s the timer’s fault! Kids can’t manipulate a timer, but they sure can weasel another ten or fifteen minutes out of mom or dad!
Power down screens
In addition to going lax on bedtimes over the summer, many of us also let screen time rules fly out the window. I get it. During the school year, time for favorite television shows, favorite tablet apps and video games is scarce, what with homework and extracurricular activities. As a result, many parents ease up on screen time and find their kids spending increasing amounts of time lost in the glow.
What many parents don’t realize is that screen time negatively affects sleep quality. Use the school year routine to get back into good habits and set healthy limits on daily doses of screen time. Most of all, make sure to cut off screen time at least two hours before bedtime to allow your children’s brains to rid the effects of blue light and ready themselves for slumber.
No, not that kind of blackout, I’m talking about shades! Many schools now start their year in July or August, and it is often still light out around 8:00 p.m. Make sure your child’s room is dark, creating an inviting, cave-like place to sleep. If you don’t already, invest in some blackout shades or curtains to staunch any errant beams of sunlight that might be finding their way into your kid’s room.
I hope you and your families have had wonderful, fun-filled summers! If you follow my back to school sleep tips, your children should be in great shape to take on the year and reap the rewards of healthy sleep habits. And, if you find yourself struggling, remember that I’m just a phone call away!