The holidays are coming to an end and some schools have already started their school year. Besides getting those new books and other supplies, new school uniforms and all the accessories that go with school life, parents have a huge challenge.
Can you guess what that is?
Their children’s back to school sleep schedule.
Huge challenge to get these precious ones to get back to their routine. In an ideal world, all children would sleep and wake up at the same time every day of the year. But life is less than ideal especially with crucial stuff, so…
The thing is, holidays are relaxed and sleeping late becomes a habit. Of course the little ones are excited about not waking up early and rushing off—and the parents are relieved to be able to breathe a little.
I struggled with this when my son was in school. When I shoo-ed him off to bed, he’d say, “just five minutes” and the “five minutes” often stretched into an hour.
The result? 6 a.m. arrived and it would be a major task to get him up and ready for school. Of course, we made resolutions to stick to a sleep schedule the next summer—but hey—that’s easier said than done.
There’s no doubt that children need enough sleep to grow healthy. Summer vacation inevitably means staying up later than usual at night and sleeping in longer than usual in the morning. But they can’t afford to do this when it is back to school time.
So how much sleep is ideal for a child?
For children in the 5-12 age group, at least 10 to 11 hours of sleep at night.
For teens, nine hours.
Did I hear someone laughing? Because ironically teens do just the opposite!
When your child doesn’t get enough sleep…
There are scientific studies to prove that a lack of sleep affects physical and mental health—in a negative way. Not sleeping enough causes increased anxiety, depression, and fatigue. This leads to problems with academic performance.
Did you know that just one hour of sleep deprivation over the course of several nights can lead to drastic consequences? The next thing you know, this gets in the way of good grades. Children find it harder to pay attention in class—they get fidgety and disruptive.
So what can you do to get your child’s back to school sleep schedule back on track?
Here are some tips that worked for me. Let me mention that it takes work and effort, but oh so worth it!
1. Explain why sleep is important
We sat our son down and told him why getting enough sleep is crucial for good health and for doing well in school, in academics and sports. See, rather than just lay down the rules, it is important to explain the “why” behind it. I secretly think my sales training helped, because I became better at asking the right questions. I can’t help smiling when I think of the earnest expression on his face.
2. Begin early
Our target was three weeks before school was due to start. We started encouraging our son to get ready for bed a little earlier every day. He would happily stay up until almost 11.30 p.m., which was way past his school-day bedtime. We began with 15 minutes and built it up incrementally, every day, until he settled down to sleeping at 9.00 p.m. Nope, it wasn’t easy, but we did it. And we made sure we woke him up at 6 a.m.
Moral of the story? Do not wait until the last minute to do this! The good part is, when you persist with being strict about this, it becomes a habit—for the child to sleep on time.
3. Switch off the TV and go gadget free
Obviously, no one—least of all children—can just climb into bed and fall asleep. After the intense activity during the day, they have to wind down. This means no TV. No gadgets at least one hour before bedtime. More than an hour is ideal.
4. Make sure that bed is only for sleeping
I confess I love to read in bed—but that changed when our son started going to school. No, I didn’t stop reading, but made sure he was in bed fast asleep before I settled down with my book. If he saw me do it, we could be pretty sure he’d stay up way past his bed time, the little book worm! So, we ensured that he sat in a comfortable chair and read for 10 or 15 minutes before he got into bed.
5. Set that ambiance
Setting a consistent bedtime routine is important. Distractions in the bedroom are a big deal. Fortunately, our son was fine without a nightlight. We had a cute Donald Duck that cast a gentle glow but he loved to stare at it and start fantasizing stories, wide awake. Then one day, he told me he actually didn’t need a light. Duh. And oh, we kept the room quiet. Did have the radio on sometimes at low volume, but that was quite conducive to drifting off to sleep.
6. Be firm
If there’s one thing children are experts at, it is negotiating. One melting look, followed by a warm smushy hug and we parents—at least my husband and I—were putty in his hands. So we made sure we set rules, explained them to him, made sure he understood them. Lights off at 9 p.m. meant exact that. No compromise. Tough on us sometimes, when we had work to do, but you know what they say: no pain, no gain.
7. Teach by example
This is the toughest part. Always tempting to stay up once the children are in bed and catch up with work or read a book or try to tackle the million things on that to-do list. But the truth is, adults need enough sleep as much as kids do. So I recommend buddying up with your children and following a decent sleep schedule. Not only will this keep you healthy but also make it easier to get them on their back to school sleep schedule and routine. And believe me, it isn’t hard to fall asleep after a tiring day!
8. Set a routine
This is so important. Together with my son, I made a timetable. This included a sequence of events to follow for the night before, as well as the morning, and when he returned from school. Having a structure helps to make sure the morning goes smoothly. The night before, he would get his schoolbag ready, lay out his clothes for the next day making getting ready for school easy. Of course, my little hero forgot a thing or two and I solved this by taping the timetable to the inside door of his closet, along with his list of chores.
Oh, we made it a point to appreciate our son when he did something without being told. Examples are: when he woke up as soon as he was nudged, put together his breakfast and ate it, got his bag and shoes ready…and so on. Positive reinforcement goes a long way. It makes it easier to get back to the grind of schoolwork, homework, extracurricular activities and all those things that make up school days.
Teach them to set an alarm. This is a great habit to cultivate. The young ones love to fiddle with the clock and feel quite important when they set their wake up time. As much as I loved cuddling my son awake, on school days it was a bit tough as I was also busy in the kitchen getting lunch boxes and breakfasts ready. So we got him a cute alarm clock he enjoyed looking at on his bedside table. I suspect he would wake up just before the alarm went off just to hear it ring and turn it off. Ha, ha…snooze is a concept that he learned only after he went to college.
Another thing: be kind. Love and logic invariably work in parenting. Sure you have to be firm, but that gets easier when you’re loving.
How do you tackle the change in sleep schedule when it is back to school time?