Summer holidays. Is there anything like it? Sun tans, sleepovers, camping, cottages and so many wonderful memories. What we don’t see a lot of over the summer is structure and routine. And that’s okay. You might be surprised given I am a pediatric sleep consultant, but I break the rules too – especially in the summer!
As the summer days dwindle and kids get ready to head back to school, there are things you can do to help with the transition.
Set a bedtime and stick to it
So first things first. What time should your kids be going to bed? Well, a lot of parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 at night.
They’re even more surprised when I tell them that I suggest they keep that bedtime until their child is about 13 years old. There are two reasons why kids should be in bed by 8:00pm.
First, school-aged kids (6 – 13 years) need at least 10 hours of sleep a night as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Kids are also excellent at stalling. So if your goal is 8pm, after the “I need a drink” and “I need to pee again” and “Can I have another hug”, it won’t be 8pm anymore. I still remember when I was child, the minute my parents said it was “time for bed” I thought of at least 15 things I NEEDED to do.
Second, you as a parent need to exist child-free for a few hours a day. Pretty simple.
Don’t leave it to the last minute
School starts in one week. So start making changes now.
If your kids have been going to bed around 9:00 for the better part of their vacation, try moving bedtime up by about 15 minutes until you’re back to their normal bedtime. If this requires a little deception on your part by adjusting the clocks in their room, you just go ahead and get deceptive.
Establish a bedtime routine
If you had an effective bedtime routine before your summer vacation, then re-implement it. Familiarity will definitely help your child settle back into the schedule quicker and with less resistance than trying out something new.
On the other hand, if this is your first go at implementing a bedtime routine, let me just stress how much easier a repetitive, predictable bedtime routine can make your life. When your child’s body and brain start to associate things like baths, stories, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it cues up their melatonin production, making sleep come easier.
Turn off those screens
Summer means more leniency and chances are you’ve been allowing more screen time than normal. The thing about screens, whether they’re phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they put out a massive amount of blue light. Our brains associate blue light with sunshine, and therefore daytime, so screens before bed can actually have the unwanted effect of firing your kid’s system back up when it should be powering down. Try to avoid any screen time for at least two hours before bed. (Side note, this also applies to adults, so if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try reading instead of watching TV before you turn in.)
Turn to the dark side
And while we’re on the subject of light, the only thing that simulates sunlight better than a TV screen is… actual sunlight. If your child’s bedroom is still lit up when you’re putting them to bed, I suggest investing in a set of blackout blinds. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Whichever way you choose to do it, get that sunlight out of the bedroom. It’ll make a world of difference.
After two months of leniency around bedtime, your child may not be happy about going back to the old rules. Some kids will fight hard. Arguments for why they should be allowed to stay up later are likely to be heard for at least a few days. Don’t give in to the pressure, because this 8:00 bedtime is going to be in place for several years. The sooner they accept that as the norm and their summertime hours as a special circumstance, the easier this whole bedtime thing will be for you and for them.
No matter what grade they’re headed into, nothing will help them go into the new school year with a better attitude and positive outlook than getting plenty of sleep. They’ll be happier, more socially outgoing and ready to learn.
Have a great first day back everyone!
1 Jennifer L. Vriend, PhD Fiona D. Davidson, MA Penny V. Corkum, PhD Benjamin Rusak, PhD, FRSC Christine T. Chambers, PhD Elizabeth N. McLaughlin, PhD (2013) Manipulating Sleep Duration Alters Emo- tional Functioning and Cognitive Performance in Children – Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 10, 1 November 2013, Pages 1058–1069, https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jst033
2 Mindell J, Lee C, Goh D, Leichman E, Rotella K (2017). Sleep and Social-Emotional Develop- ment in Infants and Toddlers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 46:2, 236-246, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2016.1188701
3 Sleep efficiency (but not sleep duration) of healthy school-age children is associated with grades in math and languages – Gruber, Reut et al. Sleep Medicine , Volume 15 , Issue 12 , 1517 – 1525