We all relax the rules in the holidays – especially when it comes to letting the kids stay up late. But if they’re to be well-rested and ready for school, they need a regular sleep pattern. It can be a challenge – so here are our top back-to-school sleeping tips for kids.
1Check how much sleep your child needs
Young children need more sleep than older ones. As a rough guide, those aged from five to eight years old need at least ten hours per night. Teenagers need a little less. You can check out the National Sleep Foundation guidelines here.
Work backwards from the time you need them to get up in the mornings to establish their bedtime. Remember, though, that many children will need more sleep at the start of the new school year. A full timetable, after-school activities and getting used to a new routine all take their toll. If your child is starting school for the first time, they’ll be especially exhausted.
2Start straight away
Ideally, you’d start moving your child’s bedtime forward gradually a couple of weeks before school starts. Don’t worry if you haven’t done this, though. It might mean they’re a little more tired to start with as they’re getting up earlier, but they’ll soon catch up. You just need to make sure you’re consistent about their new bedtime.
3Stick to the schedule
It’s important not to lapse at the weekends. Letting your kids stay up late and sleep in until lunchtime means they won’t get used to the new routine. It can even damage their sleep pattern for the start of each week. There’s nothing wrong with a little leeway, but don’t let things slide too much.
4Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
What form this takes will depend on your child’s age and any homework or extra-curricular activities. It’s important not to over-stimulate your child – if their minds are busy at bedtime, they won’t sleep.
Ban all electronics an hour before bedtime – that includes phones, computers, television and video games. These emit a light that tricks the brain into thinking it needs to stay awake. A relaxing bath or shower after dinner will help their bodies unwind. Follow this with storytime for younger kids or quiet reading for the older ones.
5Create a calming environment
Your children should associate their bed with sleep. If they spend time relaxing in their bedrooms, get them a beanbag or comfortable chair to sit in. Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature – too hot and they’ll struggle to sleep. If your children need a nightlight or dimmer, sleep adviser Nicole Ratcliffe says red is the best colour to promote rest. White noise can be helpful for minimising other sudden sounds or distractions.
6Keep an eye on food and drink
Limit your kid’s intake of caffeinated drinks or sugary snacks; ideally, they won’t have any within three hours of bedtime. Healthy eating can help with sleep, so avoid fatty foods and processed carbohydrates.
7Talk to them
Children have always complained about going to bed early – it’s pretty much the law! They’ll naturally push back against the schedule you’ll set. Explain how it will benefit them and set your rules out clearly. Some parents say letting their kids set their own bedtime for a few days is a good way of showing how hard it is to focus without enough sleep.
8Practise what you preach
It’s just as important that we adults get enough sleep to cope with our busy lives too. Establishing good bedtime habits for yourself will increase your own energy levels and set a positive example for your children. And if they know the whole family is taking part in the ‘back to school sleep programme’, they’ll be happier to follow it.