For us, this summer has been a fantastic blur of sunshine, long lazy days, paddling pools and beach trips. But we are now hurtling back towards the new school year with great speed, and that can only mean one thing – back to reality!
For lots of families, the summer holidays provide a welcome break from stricter routines and allows much greater flexibility at home. Bedtimes tend to creep later and mornings are more laid back. But come the start of term and your child will need to snap back in to routine or they will be feeling less than bright eyed and bushy tailed for the first days of term!
Whether it’s the first day of school, pre-school, nursery or playgroup, sound sleep and a good routine can make all the difference between a happy child and an emotional melt down.
Why sleep matters
A well-rested child will be less anxious about going in to school or their childcare setting and will be happier to go in each day. They will relate more effectively to their peers and their teachers or carers, and will perform better each day.
Starting a new setting, or even just returning to the same one is a big adjustment for children, and whilst good sleep won’t all suppress of your child’s concerns, it will set them up to cope better physically, mentally and emotionally.
The Sleep Sanctuary 6
These 6 tips will help you to smooth the transition from hazy summer days back into the new term with ease.
1) Check your maths!
Work out how much sleep your child should be getting appropriate to their age. In general children between 3 to 5 years of age should sleep for around 10 to 13 hours each day (including any naps). 6 to 12-year olds should sleep for around 9 to 12 hours each day, and teenagers between 13 to 18 should get between 8 to 10 hours a day.
Think about what time they need to start their day and then work out what time they should be asleep by, in order to get the correct amount of sleep for their age.
2) Shifting bedtime
You will probably have to shift your child’s bedtime from their summer bedtime, to where it should be appropriate to their age. This can either be done in one swift move or done gradually – it’s up to you.
I prefer to do this gradually, simply by creeping bedtime forwards in 15 or 30-minute intervals every few days. This will vary depending on how many days to you have to work with and how much time you need to make up!
If you prefer to go make the change in one step, start by waking your child up in the morning at his new term-time wake-up time. Then put him to bed that evening at the appropriate time so he can get the recommended amount of sleep. He will be a little more tired and willing to go to sleep at his new bedtime.
3) Bring routine back
Routines often go out of the window in the summer in favour of evening play in the sunshine. To prevent bedtime battles and create a smoother evening, bring back your usual bedtime routine. This can be as simple as three or four things that happen in the same order every night, but for your child, they will signal that it is the start of their wind down time and that bedtime is getting near.
Choose a routine that works for you and your family and be consistent with it. Enjoy the opportunity to read bedtime stories, listen to your child read, or simply have a short snuggle time.
4) Ban the blue lights
In today’s modern world, almost everyone has a phone, tablet, tv or some other electronic device in their bedroom. However, each of these devices emit blue light that actually suppresses our bodies natural release of the sleep hormone Melatonin, which makes it more difficult for us to fall asleep.
Make sure that your child avoids all computers, smartphones or tablets for at least two hours before bedtime.
5) Active bodies, active minds
Let your child expend some energy in the late afternoon. This can be a challenge if your child has homework, but even 30 minutes of active, (preferably) outdoor time can help your child achieve a more restful sleep. But be sure to end all rough play at least an hour before bed as it is far too stimulating for restful sleep. Instead encourage quiet activities, such as puzzles, books, or even building toys in the hours leading up to bed.
6) Get organised
I never understand why things take so much longer in the mornings, but they do! Try to get organised and prepare as much as you can the night before, to ease any morning struggles.
Build in a little ‘what if’ time so that you always have a buffer available. You never know when your child is going to have forgotten to get something important, or when a younger child might need changing just as you head out the door (this always happens!), or when one of your children just won’t get their shoes on or get in the car! Build in a little extra time to cope with these challenges and they won’t have so much impact on your morning schedule.
And if you don’t need the ‘what if’ time, then you end up with some extra time to talk to your kids, do their reading, or play for a few minutes. Happy days!
7) Be understanding and positive
Starting term time activities is a big adjustment for children, even if it’s ‘just’ preschool or simply that they are returning to the classroom. It’s a period of unrest as they experience routine changes, new expectations, and less freedom. Make sure that you’re encouraging positive habits with quality down time after school and a solid sleep routine.
Look out for signs of overtiredness and think about a few extra early nights to compensate. Going to bed just 30 minutes earlier for a few nights can be enough to replenish their sleep stores. A rested child will perform better, and be far more calm than one who is overtired and in need of quality sleep.
Be aware of high emotion and respond with extra understanding and care. Starting back to school or nursery can be emotionally draining and as soon as your child returns home, you may well be the one that gets drowned in a wave of emotion flooding out! But don’t worry, this transition is a short phase that you can both ride out together.
Rachael, The Sleep Sanctuary
The Sleep Sanctuary is a Children’s Sleep Consultancy supporting tired parents to help their children sleep soundly and live healthier, happier lives