Check out our expert’s tips on getting back into a bedtime routine.
Putting a kid to bed on a regular school night is hard enough. Now try doing it when it’s still light outside and they slept in until 11 a.m. that morning. Shrugging off normal routines may be part of summer fun, but now that school days are around the corner again, it’s time to gently start nudging our little ones back into the grooves of time.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, just 25 fewer minutes of sleep per night can lead to fatigue, concentration problems and lower grades, so parents should move bedtime back by five to 15 minutes a day beginning two weeks before the first day of school. The AAP says that not getting enough sleep each night is associated with an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression. Getting enough sleep, on the other hand, has been associated with improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health.
Sleep expert Shari Mezrah knows a thing or two about the process. Known as “The Sleep Mom,” Mezrah is the author of “The Baby Sleeps Tonight” and a Tampa-based family sleep and schedule expert who has helped countless exhausted parent regain their dreams and sanity. She believes that parents who are in control of schedules and variables are better situated for “predictable happiness,” where the whole family stays on track and therefore, well rested and relaxed.
“One week prior to the first day of school, start working on getting bedtime back on schedule,” Mezrah advises. “Prepare, prepare, prepare: The concept that I developed and utilize is called “predictable happiness,” being one step ahead of your child’s needs as well as your own.”
Mezrah’s tips for back-to-school prep:
- Never tell your child to “go to bed;” it sounds like a command and can cause anxiety.
- The night before, lay out clothing choices.
- Make a breakfast/lunch chart so food choices are already made. Happy Day notes in lunch boxes are always a big hit!
- TALK as a family about the high and lows of the day, not only about what made you happy or sad, but also discuss the plan for tomorrow.
- Teach your child to breathe and let go of the day. Guided imagery also good for relaxation.
- Limit electronics 45 minutes before bed.
- Have an early dinner, but allow your child a healthy bedtime snack of protein. However, if the child has nighttime wakings, limit sugar after 3 p.m.
- For the anxious little ones in your home, keep a pad of paper and pen by the bedside. That way, any of those “Oh, I forgot to…” items can be noted down and referred to the next day.
Here’s how much your child should sleep, according to The American Association of Pediatrics.
- Infants 4 months to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age: 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours
Sleep suggestions for every stage
Babies and toddlers love routine. At healthychildren.org, the AAP talks about its bedtime program, “Brush, Book, Bed,” which details the importance of setting a nighttime routine at every age and stage of childhood and includes tips on how to read to infants and toddlers of different ages.
For school-age children, because trying to settle down to sleep in a chaotic and messy room isn’t very relaxing, the AAP suggests incorporating cleanup into bedtime routines. Children can put books and toys back on shelves and clothes in drawers and closets, making their room a more pleasant place to sleep and things easier to find in the morning.
By the middle-school years, the AAP says it’s OK to delay weekend bedtimes and differentiate lights out times by age. But even though older kids love to sleep in, try and wake them up within an hour or so of the usual time to prevent backsliding completely out of routine. Keep those electronics out or turned off well before bed to prevent interfering with your child’s circadian rhythms.