As summer draws to a close, parents - more than kids - begin thinking about back to school. Shopping for clothes and school supplies often top the list of things to do to prepare. However, to help your child have the best start to a successful school year, establishing good sleeping habits is one of the most important things you can do as a parent.
Here are the top three things to establishing better sleep habits:
1. ESTABLISH ROUTINES
Establish regular bedtime and wake-time hours. During the summer many children and teens slip into a cycle of sleeping in. This becomes a difficult habit to break, so it is best to begin a couple of weeks before the start of school to correct this. Establish specific bedtime and wake-time hours. On weekends, it is OK to sleep in, but limit this to no more than two hours each day for your child. Encourage your child to get out of bed immediately and not linger or rely on the dreaded “snooze” control for that extra five minutes of sleep. For younger school-aged children, avoid naps during the day longer than 20 minutes.
Wind down before bedtime. For younger children especially, establishing a bedtime routine that may include bath time, teeth brushing, and story time is a great way to get ready for sleep. For older children and teens, reading a book or listening to lite music may help them relax.
2. CREATE THE RIGHT SLEEP ATMOSPHERE
Avoid distractions. The best sleeping environment is usually one where light and noise are kept to a minimum. However, every child is different and too little light or too little noise can also prove to be an inhibitor to a restful sleep. Check for things that may be a distraction, such as the light from the street lamp finding its way through the window blind, or the ticking from that battery operated clock.
Control Electronics. Avoid any stimulation from electronics at least one hour before sleep time. This includes the use of cell phones, computers, tablets, loud music, and TV. The best thing to do is to avoid having any electronics in your child’s bedroom. Separating teens from their cell phone may be an uphill battle though. As a compromise, insist that the cell phone is powered off and out of arm’s reach. Placing it on a table or a dresser across the room is ideal, and may be an incentive for your teen to get out of bed in the morning! (see Establishing Routines)
Help your child feel safe. This tends to be a bigger issue for younger children who may be frightened of the dark or sleeping alone. Lots of encouragement will help! Keeping a nightlight that does not cast too much light is a good idea. Avoid TV shows and movies, especially scary ones, too close to bedtime. This goes for scary bedtime books and stories as well.
3. ENCOURAGE A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
Establish healthy eating routines. Just like bedtime and wake-time hours, it is important to maintain consistent meal times for your children. It goes without saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so establishing healthy morning routines that leave sufficient time for a nutritious breakfast is the key. Don’t eat too close to bedtime, however being too hungry or too full can equally affect a child’s ability to fall asleep. Lastly, avoid foods with caffeine, especially energy drinks and chocolate.
Encourage physical activity. Encourage exercise and physical activity throughout the day, especially outdoors. Organized sports or outdoor play with friends increase needed exposure to fresh air and sunlight and helps children develop healthy social interaction skills. Limit time on video games and other electronic devices which tend to encourage a sedentary lifestyle. Lastly, discourage too much physical activity late at night as the increased stimulation can make it harder for your child to wind down for a relaxing sleep.
Children with a healthy sleeping pattern will be happier, healthier, and have a greater chance for success at school and later in life. It’s never too late to start incorporating these helpful tips, however, if you can establish these in the weeks before school starts, your child will be on the road to a great school year!