Coping with Covid has been stressful for all. But for children, especially teenagers, the lack of contact with peer groups has undoubtedly been the most difficult aspect of Covid to cope with.
During lockdown, in order to ‘keep the peace’, large numbers of us have allowed sleep and wake times to drift more than usual during the ‘summer holiday’. Thus we may start with an even more disrupted summer sleep schedule than normal.
Getting sleep patterns back to school times thus seems daunting this year.
However the re-establishment of the school sleep schedule provides a great opportunity to create an improved sleep routine for your child.
The key is to plan ahead and to address good sleep hygiene for the whole family, not just children on their own. This means you are leading by example especially with boundaries around use of technology at night. Even in the new normal this remains the main challenge for us all to get good sleep.
My Top 10 Tips
Here are my top tips to help you help your children get great sleep before going back to school…
1) Work out how much sleep your child needs during the new school year
On average, 3 to 5-year-olds need between 10-13 hours sleep, 6 to 13-year-olds need 9-11 hours and teenagers 8-10 hours. These are general guidelines and will vary from child to child so base the total hours on your experience and parental insight – you know your child best.
Apart from naturally needing less sleep , based on peer pressure alone, as your child gets older they would expect to go to bed later. So, a 6-year-old who went to bed at 7.30pm would expect to go to bed a lot later by the time they left primary school. Typically, if your child had 10 ¾ hours of sleep as a 6-year-old, you would expect to reduce this by 15 minutes a year. This means that by the time they get to 13 they will be having 9 hours sleep a night.
2) With your children, agree on a bedtime for the new school year
Slowly, start to adjust your child’s bedtime from their summer holiday late nights. Calculate how far off your child is from their designated school bedtime. Ideally adjust it by 15 minutes earlier every day for both their bedtime and wake time. But if they are further off track try to adjust it back with staggered nightly steps of equal length. The idea is to get your child adjusted to their new routine the day before school starts, this will give them the right amount of sleep for their age group and personal needs.
3) Make sure that this new bedtime works
If your child finds it hard to wake up in the morning and is groggy rather than alert during breakfast, you will need to adjust their bedtime to an earlier time.
4) Re-establish a good sleep routine
Have a wind-down routine, which starts about an hour before bed. Computer games, homework, and social media should all be stopped an hour before bedtime. A bath or bedtime story could be used for younger school kids. Packing books, laying out clothes for the next day, brushing teeth (without a bright bathroom light on) and putting on pyjamas, all form part of a good sleep habit. If you do the same thing each night before bed, the routine will start becoming a cue to the brain that it’s almost time for sleep.
5) Create a 7 day routine
Try to keep to the routine even at weekends. Our brains and body clock works on habits and routine. Thus a consistent bed and wake time 7 days a week makes it easier for your child to get to sleep during the week. For teenagers who are out later at night at weekends, and often catching up sleep from the school week, if you allow them to lie in later at weekends keep this to two hours versus weekday wake times. When we alter our sleep times at weekends more than this we affect our body clock by creating ‘social jet lag’ which makes it harder to get to sleep in the week. If children need more sleep than this teach them to add a nap in the day to catch up ( in the Siesta period).
6) Encourage your child to have a healthy lifestyle
Eliminate all caffeine such as coffee based drinks, energy drinks, and dark chocolate. Get them to exercise regularly, which will also help them sleep better.
7) Keep blue light out of the bedroom
With modern teenager’s use of social media, this is increasingly more difficult to enforce. Equally, schoolchildren tend to prefer studying on computers in their bedroom. However, technology that emits blue light (the light that wakes us up in the morning) should be stopped at least 60-minutes before bed. Ideally, nighttime modes and screen dimmers should be used throughout the evening.
8) Keep phones out of the bedroom overnight
This should be a family rule rather than just for your children, as it makes the boundary easier to enforce and accept. Use a traditional alarm to wake up or preferably, a dawn simulator.
9) Get your child interested in sleep and the bedroom
Educate them about why sleep is important in terms of brain development and how consistent and regular routines work. Encourage them to make their bedroom a perfect place to sleep: cool, dark, and quiet. If their mattress or pillow is uncomfortable or old, get a new one and allow older children to have a budget to buy it. Get them to try it in-store so it becomes ‘their special mattress or pillow’.
10) Set a good example
One rule for all the family is a good place to start. Make sure you keep the same 7-day schedules too, no coffee and a similar sleep routine with a one hour break from technology before bed.
I hope these tips will help you and your child establish a good sleep routine to make going back to school that little bit easier.