How to say goodbye to relaxed summer sleep schedules

Mommy, just a few extra minutes before bed? Please, pretty please?

OK, just this once.

(Repeat all summer).

Does the above scenario sound familiar to anyone else? I’m completely guilty of having traded in my kids’ bedtime schedule for a much more lenient approach during the summer. 

With back-to-school on the horizon, sleep experts agree that now is the prime time to start easing back into a more formal schedule.

“If you have gotten away from a bedtime routine while school is out, that is OK,” says Maggie Moore, certified pediatric sleep consultant and founder of Moore Sleep. “The best way to slowly prepare for when school is back in session is to bring the routine back. Routines are KEY to good sleep.”

According to a 2015 study at the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, children with nightly bedtime routines have better sleep outcomes including earlier bedtime, shorter sleep onset latency, reduced night wakings and increased sleep durations.

“Having a solid routine in place, or reintroducing the routine, can help ease kids back into an earlier bedtime and help make up some of the sleep debt they may have from summer,” Moore says.

If you have gotten into the habit of a later bedtime and later wake-ups throughout the summer, one of the first things Moore suggests is slowly moving bedtime earlier. For example, two weeks before school starts, gradually adjust bedtimes earlier and earlier until you get back to a normal schedule over time.

“Night sleep, especially those first four to six hours, is the most restorative sleep your little one gets,” says Moore, who follows her own advice with her 4-year-old son, Max. “Having a later bedtime can also cause earlier wake-ups, where an earlier bedtime can aid in later wake-ups.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, kids ages 3 through 13 need between 11 and 13 hours of sleep.

Dr. Rebecca Unger, general pediatrician in Northwestern Children’s Practice, says while she supports children having a more relaxed sleep pattern in the summer so “kids can be kids,” she encourages parents to take an active role in helping children re-establish a healthy back-to-school sleep pattern.

“Whether they start transitioning to a new schedule two weeks before school or two days before school, gradually getting children back to a sleep pattern will optimize their learning and school experience,” she says. “We know that overtired children do not learn as well as children who are well rested.”

Leah Estrada, of North Park, says her kids, ages 4 and 2, thrive with a consistent bedtime routine that includes a 15-minute warning before changing into pajamas, taking medicine, brushing teeth and reading a book.

“Repetition and consistency for us is crucial,” she says. “Getting back into the back-to-school routine should be a bit easier for us since we have an established routine already. We just have to push it up an hour or so.”

In addition to establishing a good sleeping schedule, experts agree that limiting electronics, at least an hour before bed, can make falling asleep an easier process. 

Other tried and true sleep tips for school-aged children from the experts: 

  1. Teach school-aged children about healthy sleep habits.
  2. Continue to emphasize the need for regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
  3. Make your child’s bedroom conducive to sleep – dark, cool and quiet.
  4. Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom.
  5. Avoid caffeine.

Source: National Sleep Foundation, 2019


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