Summer gives children the time to unwind, have fun, stay up later than usual, and sleep until they wake (forget the alarm clock). While they need this time to rejuvenate, unstructured summer days can make it agonizing when the new school year rolls around, and they need to get up early.
Parents can get the school year off to a good start with a plan that helps their child adjust to early wake-up calls — before the first day of school. Our team at Laurel Pediatric & Teen Medical Center is here to help if you need additional tips or your child struggles with insomnia.
In the meantime, here are five sleep tips that set your child up for a successful school year.
1. Gradually shift wake up time
One of the most challenging adjustments is the early wake-up call when school begins. You could wait until the first day of school and make the change abruptly, but then your child will drag their way into the new school year.
Getting a head start and gradually shifting their wake-up time gives your child’s natural sleep-wake cycle time to adjust. Then they can start the new school year with energy and a positive outlook.
Start about two weeks before school begins and wake your child 10 or 15 minutes earlier each morning. Keep waking them earlier until you reach the time they’ll need to get up for school. Then consistently stick with that time so their internal body clock can make the change.
2. Adjust their bedtime to ensure enough sleep
Give your child at least a few days of waking earlier before worrying about changing their bedtime. As their body adjusts to earlier mornings, they’ll naturally get tired earlier in the evening, making it easier to gradually push back their bedtime.
Ultimately, you’ll want to establish a bedtime that gives them enough hours of sleep before their morning wake-up call. These are the recommended sleep requirements:
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours of sleep (including naps)
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours of sleep (including naps)
- School-age kids (6-12 years): 9-12 hours of sleep
- Teenagers (13-18 years): 8-10 hours of sleep
Most children adjust to their new hours and get the restorative sleep they need to be alert and successful at school. Others struggle with falling asleep or sleeping through the night.
Our next three suggestions may improve your child’s ability to sleep, but if they don’t, connect with us, and we’ll help you find other solutions.
3. Turn off electronics
Your body’s sleep-wake schedule responds to light — not just because sunlight streaming through the window wakes you.
As it gets dark at night, your body naturally responds by releasing melatonin, the hormone that makes you tired.
By comparison, light prevents melatonin from being released, so you don’t get tired. The blue light emitted from TVs, computers, cell phones, and other electronics has a big impact, suppressing melatonin more than other light sources.
It’s important to turn off your child’s electronics an hour before bedtime if you want them to be able to fall asleep. Ensure they know this is an intentional decision to improve their sleep, not a punishment or an effort to eliminate electronics.
4. Plan a relaxing activity
After you turn off electronics, you can devote the last hour of your child’s day to activities that help them relax and prepare their mind and body for bedtime.
They may want to play alone, or you could make it a special time to be together. For example, you could spend time coloring, reading, working on a puzzle, listening to an audiobook, or even taking a leisurely walk.
5. Create a bedtime ritual
Bedtime rituals, also called good sleep hygiene, are specific activities you always perform before bedtime. Following the same ritual (at the same time and in the same order) every night helps children understand it’s time for bed, making the transition smoother.
Some common rituals include having a healthy snack, brushing their teeth, taking a warm bath, putting on pajamas, dimming the lights, and reading a short book after your child settles into bed.
Call Laurel Pediatric & Teen Medical Center or request an appointment online if you need help getting your child to sleep at night.