Ask Dr. Bronwyn
Back to School Sleep Tips
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Everyone knows that the sooner you start adjusting bed-times and wake-times before heading back to school, the less shocking it will be when school actually starts. But, what if like a lot of parents you just couldn’t bear to shut down summer fun when the sun was still shining? Or didn’t even have the chance, thanks to a house full of Labor Day weekend guests?
If your child is still on a summer schedule, you’re not alone. And you’re not in dire straights either. Sure, you no longer have the luxury of getting sleep back on track gradually, but you can still go cold turkey, and should.
Thanks to your child’s internal clock, and suffering from a summer-jetlag of sorts, it’s going to be a rough week. But, if you want to avoid the pitfalls of sleep deprivation, like grumpy mornings, endless battles and frequent meltdowns, as well as challenges in school with paying attention, concentrating, self-control and learning, it will be well worth it.
Here are a few ways to get your child back to sleeping well and feeling rested, if you stick the course.
Tips for getting back to school-sleep-routines:
Determine a realistic wake time. Figure out what time your child needs to wake in order to get out the door and to school on time, accounting for his entire wake/breakfast/morning routine.
Figure out an ideal bedtime. Determine the number of hours of sleep your child needs in a night. Work backwards from the time she needs to wake to figure out her ideal bedtime. You may need to do some testing and adjusting.
Reinstate a clear and concrete bedtime routine. Predictable bedtime rituals are great cues for sleep. Decide what you want the bedtime routine to look like (e.g., will you sing a song? read a book?) and set clear limits as well (e.g., number of books, acceptable reasons to call you, last opportunity for a drink of water, etc.). Be thoughtful and concrete, so you don’t end up improvising at bedtime.
Don’t cave. You’re likely to get a lot of stalling demands, push back and protests during the first week of the new sleep regimen. Ignore any complaints or protests (e.g., not being tired, being hungry). Discussing or arguing with your child will only prolong the bedtime struggle. Remain calm and firm. Give your child a head’s up beforehand that this is how it will go.
Start the new bedtime ASAP. New bedtime routines should begin as soon as you’ve come up with one. Make a commitment to continue with this pattern of early to bed, early to rise for an entire week, including the weekend, so you can firmly establish new circadian rhythms.
Make it dark, despite the light. Turn the lights down low during your bedtime routine, and do your best to block out the daylight at bedtime to increase Melatonin production and make sleep less of a struggle.
Protect time to unwind before bed. Give your child at least 30 minutes before bedtime to wind down, since he’s not going to feel very sleepy at the earlier hour.
Start everything earlier. Move all parts of your child’s afternoon/evening routine earlier (e.g., dinner, bath) so you don’t have to rush the routine and make your plans backfire.
Allow time for a longer transition. During the first week, allot extra time for the bedtime routine, since there will probably be some pushback.
Take all tech out of the bedroom. Always.
Close the kitchen. Eating before bedtime revs up your child’s digestive system, metabolism and body temperature, making it more difficult for him to fall asleep.
Help your child relax. If your child seems wide-awake, have on hand some mindfulness exercises, progressive relaxation techniques or even a guided relaxation CD (e.g., stress free kids) to help her feel more calm and sleepy.
Be strong. If your child gets out of bed after you have said goodnight (regardless of the time), firmly and calmly escort him back to bed (each time). Be consistent and don’t give up.
Tips to prepare for smoother school mornings:
Discuss a wake-up plan. Since the first few mornings will be hard, thanks to your child’s internal clock being thrown out of sync, talk to your child about how she wants to wake up in the morning (e.g., who will wake her, what will happen if she won’t get out of bed, etc.).
Create a morning checklist of tasks. Remind your child that leisurely summer mornings can’t happen on school days. Give him independence over his routine by making the invisible visible, with a transition checklist (include visual cues for little ones) and a time timer too (amazon.com).
No snoozing. Don’t let your child hit snooze or convince you to come back for a second wake up call. In doing so, she’ll likely fall back into a deep sleep, making it even harder to wake up and causing her to feel even worse.
Stretch the time between dinner and breakfast. If your child wakes up hungry, her body’s “food clock” just might override circadian rhythms telling her it’s still time to sleep, making her more willing to get up for breakfast.
Expect it to take about a week. But only if you stick to the limits you set!