It will soon be the end of the school holidays (or the very beginning of school for your little one) and, let’s face it, some later nights and lay ins may have crept in during that time (I know I have been wanting to spend as much time with my little ones so they may have been going to bed a little later than normal). Now we are close to the start of term, however, what is the best way to get your little one school ready?
Getting your children ready for school from a sleep point of view may not seem like a big deal but in 2017 Dr Guy Meadows undertook a study on school aged children for a Panorama programme. During this study, school children slept 1 hour more per night, for a week, and the results were staggering:
• Their problem solving ability increased by 66%
• The results of a memory test they undertook increased by 57%
• Their attention and focus increased by 44%
Just think how much your little one may be missing if they are not getting enough sleep! If you want to read more and see what other effects lack of sleep can have on your little one, click here
So what can we do to get our little ones back to school ready – sleep wise?
A lot of parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend a bedtime between 7:30 and 8:30 at night (depending upon their child’s age). 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 I think children should be in bed, and by that I mean sleeping, by 8:30 at night.
Firstly your 6-13 year old needs an average of at least 10 hours of sleep a night (according to the National Sleep Foundation).
An extra hour or so on top of that is never a bad thing, but you obviously have to make those adjustments based on your own observations.
In any event, if your child needs to be up by 7:00am in order to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9:00pm at the latest. If you add in the time it takes them to get to sleep after they get into bed, following the inevitable request for a glass of water or request to talk about their day, 8:30 is really the latest they can get to bed and still get the sleep they need.
Secondly, you, as a parent, and your partner if you have one, need to be able to be child-free for a few hours a day. You need to be able to watch TV programs you want, eat in peace and even spend some time together talking and reconnecting. It is important to recharge those parenting batteries and time together is vital to your relationship with your partner and with your children.
Tips to get your little one ‘school sleep’ ready
• Don’t leave it to the last minute.
I have written this blog while there’s still a couple of weeks before school starts because the easiest way to get back on track is little by little. If your little one has been going to bed at around 9pm for a few weeks, try moving bedtime earlier by about 10-15 minutes every 4 days until you’re back to their normal bedtime.
• Establish a bedtime routine
If you had a good bedtime routine before the upheaval of the summer holiday try to re-implement it as much as possible. Familiarity will definitely help your child settle back into their routine quicker and with less resistance than trying out something new.
On the other hand, if this is your first attempt at implementing a bedtime routine, a repetitive, predictable bedtime routine can make your life much easier, and bedtime much smoother! When your child’s body and brain start to associate things like baths, stories, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it makes it a lot easier for them to fall asleep (not to mention the scientific benefits of body temperatures and baths for a start)! I can’t recommend bedtime routines highly enough.
• Use a timer
Of course, things like baths and stories are great fun, so there may be a tendency for your little one to try and negotiate more time in the bath, or one more story. A timer really can be your best friend for keeping things on schedule and, as silly as it may sound, takes the blame off of you onto the timer.
• Turn of those screens
Holidays can be a little exhausting if you are constantly having to entertain your little ones so, along with later bedtimes during the summer, we also tend to be a little more relaxed about screen time too. The difficulty with screens before bed, whether they are phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they emit a lot of blue light. Our brains (and our ‘awake hormone’ serotonin) are stimulated by the blue light and this will also prevent the ‘sleepy hormone’ (melatonin) being secreted. I always recommend at least an hour of screen free time (ideally two) before bedtime to allow your little one’s melatonin to increase which will allow their body to prepare for sleep more readily.
If your child is older, and the thought of giving up their phone may mean they will miss out on vital ‘chat’ with their friends, try to enlist their friend’s parents too. If there are a few children not up late ‘chatting’ it makes it a lot more bearable for your child if they are not the only one missing out!
As a side note, us grown-ups should do this too – try putting your phone down, turning the tv off and reading in that hour before bed and see how it helps you fall asleep!
• Make it really dark
Talking about light, the lovely lighter evenings we have been having mean it does not really get dark until later than 8:30pm, and the only thing that simulates our ‘awake hormones’ better than a TV screen is sunlight. If your child’s bedroom is not a level of 10/10 dark I suggest investing in a set of blackout blinds. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, you can get a travel bind for around £25 or even non-adhesive window film, which is just plastic you can cut to size and pop over the glass.
One final thing to add here: if your routine and parenting style has been a little more relaxed over the summer be prepared for some arguments about why your little one should be allowed to stay up later for at least a few days (if not, potentially, the next eight or ten years).
Make sure you remain consistent when you are implementing the ‘school sleep rules’. The sooner they accept that their summertime hours are unusual and special circumstances, and the routine is here to stay, the easier bedtime will be for all of you.
I hope you had a wonderful summer holiday and that your little ones are looking forward to starting school again. I promise you that, no matter what level they are naturally at, nothing will prepare them more and give them the best opportunity to reach their full potential than getting plenty of sleep. They will be happier, more socially outgoing, and ready to learn.
If this is your first experience with your little one starting school, good luck and make the most of these last days before they start! Look forward to a lifetime of amazing learning and, if this is the last time one of your little ones will start school, enjoy that time to yourself (once you’ve gotten over the initial heartbreak, of course).
If all this talk of great sleep skills really seems too good to be true and you need help with your older child’s sleep, do get in touch! I would love to help you guide your child towards their independent sleep skills, skills which are vital to their health and learning for the rest of their lives!