The lazy mornings of cartoons, afternoons spent outside listening for the ice cream truck's melodies, and late night games of Kick the Can with dozens of neighborhood friends are coming to an end. Chances are that with all the summer activities going on, your family's regular routine has fallen by the wayside. While this is all part of the fun of summer, transitioning back to a routine at the start of a new school year is extremely important. Adequate sleep promotes longer attention spans, increased alertness, sharpened memory, and stronger concentration, ensuring that your children are ready to learn and perform at their best during the school day.
Here are four tips to help you and your little ones make the transition back to school-mode a little easier:
1) Determine an appropriate bedtime. School-aged children between the ages of five and twelve need 10-12 hours of sleep each night. A younger child will need closer to 11-12 hours of sleep, while an older child will need around 10-11 hours. Base your child's bedtime on when they need to wake up in the morning to get ready for school. For example, if your 6-year-old needs to be awake by 6:30am to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush her teeth, and be out the door for the bus by 7:00am, then she should be asleep between 6:30-7:30pm. You can be assured that your child is getting adequate night sleep if they wake easily and happily in the morning. If, after a couple of weeks on their new schedule, your child is struggling to wake in the morning, try moving bedtime earlier by 15-30 minutes.
2) Ease into the schedule. If your child has been going to sleep at a later hour during the summer, start adjusting their bedtime about two weeks before school starts. Slowly move bedtime earlier in 15-minute increments every 1-2 days until the appropriate bedtime is reached. The ideal scenario is that your child is going to bed at night and waking in the morning at the times of the new school year schedule a few days before school starts.
3) Establish a consistent bedtime routine. Start to slow the pace of the day an hour before bedtime. Have your child avoid vigorous physical activity, foods and drinks with caffeine, and electronic screens, all of which make it harder to fall asleep and impair the quality of sleep. Include activities before bedtime that your child enjoys and that will allow their mind and body to relax. It may also be helpful to prepare for the next morning before bedtime so that getting out the door for school goes smoothly. An example of a bedtime routine may look something like this: prepare the next day's lunch, gather school supplies and backpack, set out the next day's outfit, take a bath or shower, brush teeth, say prayers, read a book or two, then lights out.
4) Be consistent. Make sleep a priority for your children by enforcing routines and a regular bedtime each day of the week, even on weekends. Children should be going to bed and waking at about the same time each day to keep their biological rhythms steady. Establishing consistent healthy sleep habits will prepare your children to successfully face the mental and physical demands of each new school day.