Even with the best of intentions, many parents may have let their kids’ sleep habits slide, especially in the waxing days of summer. With the start of school right around the corner, they’re likely asking themselves, “How do I get my kids back into a sleep schedule?”
First, start with your own sleep schedule, advises Jyoti Krishna, MD, a sleep expert at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Kids learn by example; when you make sleep a priority and stick with a sleep schedule yourself, it’ll be easier for your child to do the same,” explains Dr. Krishna.
Dr. Krishna can offer a variety of back-to-school sleep tips, along with other helpful insights about kids and sleep. For example, did you know that, unlike adults – who may be drowsy after not getting enough sleep – kids are more likely to act out if they’re not well-rested?
Here are nine more tips from Dr. Krishna for beating the back-to-school bedtime blues.
#9 Start a week before, if possible. Ease your kids back into their bedtime by working in 15-minute increments. For example, the week before school, have your child go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until she’s back to a reasonable time. The number of days you need depends on how many minutes off she is from her regular bedtime.
#8 Come up with a schedule that fits your family. Perhaps you need to have dinner earlier so your child can go to bed at a consistent time. Be realistic about after-school or work activities that could interfere with bedtime.
#7 Cut the caffeine. Caffeine, including sodas and iced tea, should not be consumed at all by children or at least not after lunch, as the effects of caffeine can last for several hours and interfere with sleep quantity and quality. Many parents might be surprised to learn that some brands of soft drinks, such as orange soda and root beer, contain caffeine while others do not, so check the labels. Chocolate and chocolate milk are less of a problem, but they can still affect sleep. Water or plain, low-fat milk are the best choices.
#6 Go screenless before bed. The artificial light from TV, computers, video games and other electronic devices disrupts melatonin, our natural sleep hormone, while the content of the media engages the brain. This double-whammy makes it doubly hard for your child to fall asleep. A couple hours before bed, start powering down the electronics. Read a book to your child in low light or allow your older child to read before bed. Be sure to set a limit on the number of stories, however.
#5 Don’t send your child to bed hungry. A small, healthy snack, such as fruit, string cheese with crackers or a bowl of whole-grain cereal, is OK at bedtime. Avoid chocolate and sugar.
#4 Follow a consistent – and calming – bedtime routine. A warm bath can be a good way for your child to settle down for the night. So can listening to soothing music. Children like predictability, so follow the same bedtime and bedtime routine every day. On the weekends, you can let your child stay up an extra 1-1 ½ hours, if you must. Anything more than that will make it difficult to get back into the routine on Sunday night.
#3 Create a comfortable sleep environment. If your child goes to bed while it’s still light out, room-darkening blinds can help. A fan or white noise machine can drown out noise from traffic, creaky floorboards or barking dogs. Keeping the room temperature cool, but comfortable, will also help promote sleep.
#2 Avoid late-afternoon naps. Although your child might be tired from a long day out in the sun, avoid letting him nap. In some cases, short naps less than 20 minutes may be OK, as long as they don’t delay bedtime. Any longer and it will be difficult for your child to fall asleep at bedtime.
#1 Let your child fall asleep on her own. At the end of the bedtime routine, tuck in your child, kiss her goodnight and leave the room. If you lie down with her or stroke her hair until she falls asleep, she’ll have trouble falling asleep without you.