As the end of summer time draws near, it is a good opportunity for parents’ to take stock and make any adjustments to their schedules that they may feel are necessary if things have been a little on the relaxed side during the day and at bedtime over the holidays. Studies consistently support that well rested children perform better and excel in the classroom and it’s never too soon to ensure that your children have the advantage rather than the disadvantage where performance is concerned. Lack of sleep can negatively impact your child’s mood, behaviour and ability to do well in school and socially.
For parents of children from birth to 5 years it is important whether they are attending pre-school or childcare or not, that you maintain a regular schedule, ensuring that day sleep if age appropriate is factored in and achieved. A predictable daytime schedule with consistent wake and sleep times in tandem with regular meal-times helps to regulate the natural body rhythms and maintain energy and mood levels on an even keel. A well slept child during the day will inherently sleep better and longer at night. If day sleeps have been out and about a lot this summer, I would encourage you to start having one or two day sleeps at home in a typical sleep environment to promote a better overall quality of your child’s sleep.
It can help if we teach our younger children the differences between the days. It can be confusing for some children to figure out why five days a week they attend child care or preschool and then stay home at the weekends. This may be even more difficult for them to process if you have recently enjoyed a two week holiday with your children and then they have to return to day care. Involve preschoolers in keeping a calendar type effort where they can tick of the relevant days-sometimes colour coding days can help reinforce understanding of weekend versus weekdays. Chat to your kids about the importance of “home time” and “school or child care time”, so that they can learn the significance of both.
All parents need to be compassionate and understand that going back to school after the long summer break is a big transition, but it’s a good idea to put a positive slant on it for them and emphasise the value of education and the many social opportunities that come their way throughout the course of the school year. Not all children find school easy so it is important that they get a real understanding of the value of attending, day in day out. Make sure that you set aside time as a family during the week to compensate for their absence during the school and working day. You can help your child to look forward to going back to school. It’s important that they don’t overhear you being negative about school; identify the areas they like best and build on their preferences from there. Being enthusiastic will rub off, but obviously the reverse is true too.
As your teenager slides into puberty there is shift in their body clock that makes it hard for them to fall asleep before 11pm or even later in some cases. This problem is compounded by early school start times regardless of what time they went to sleep. Your task is to be informed about this shift and to create an optimum environment for healthy sleep patterns whenever possible.
In an effort to get back into a school orientated schedule for sleep here are a few ideas:
1. Get your child involved in their bedtime. Make it an enjoyable, predictable process. Introduce this gradually if you don’t have a routine already. Chat to your child about your plans to help wind them down ahead of sleep. Give them time to adjust to this new process and give them a sense of ownership by allowing them to make some decisions about the bedtime routine, like which books you will read together, what music you will listen to. Encourage older children to have wind down before sleep time, like reading quietly before lights out.
2. Establish a suitable bed time-typical bedtimes for young children up to the age of around 10 shouldn’t be later than 8.30pm. Bear in mind that your little student 5-18 years -needs at least 10 hours straight at night. If bedtime has been later than this over the summer or you find that you must wake your child every morning and they may be grumpy and find it hard to get going, this is a clear indicator that they are not getting enough sleep. Having one less hour a night of required sleep can seriously impair performance when it comes to learning. Consider bringing bedtime forward gradually: I find 15 minutes every two days until you get to a suitable time and your child is falling asleep within 15/20 minutes works well. If your child has been awake relatively early any way but bedtime has been relaxed, then start to adjust this earlier now too
3. Keep Electronic distractions out of the bedroom. Experts recommend to avoid screen time within the hour before sleep. This means turning off televisions, computers, video games, phones for example. Television and other electronic gadgets have a false restoring quality and act as a stimulant that can inhibit the production of the sleep hormone melatonin which in turn makes going to sleep very hard.
4. Learn some muscle stretching exercises, proven to help to prepare the body for sleep. Avoid stimulating activities, choose low impact, quiet activities and generally keep the routine exclusively to the bedroom to ensure positive associations with the sleep process.
5. Get enough fresh air and outside activity. Exercise can help increase the amount of deep sleep our children need. A large number of children (my own included) are ferried back and forth to school by car and inclement weather prevents them playing outside as much as we would like-try to fill this gap as best as you can, at the same time ensuring that your child isn’t over-scheduled from an after school activity point of view. Two or three extra classes would be enough for any child-they need their “down time” too…Having too many extra-curricular activities can make it hard for your child to wind down at the end of each day.
6. Be consistent with bed timings and avoid massively changing the bedtime on the weekend. Younger children’s bedtime should remain consistent throughout the whole week, but as your child gets older you can vary it slightly, but not more than 1 hour would be a good guideline, even though they want to sleep later it can really throw the body clock out and make bedtime on school days hard to achieve. Judge this yourself and decide what works for your family.
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Covering all sleep issues and answering your questions from birth to 6 years of age.