School is back, which means so is your child's dreaded earlier bedtime. The switch can be tough on kids, who are used to staying up late all summer, and also parents, who now have to wrestle little ones into bed. But experts say the change doesn't have to be difficult for either camp. Here are some of their best strategies returning your child to a teacher-approved sleep schedule.
Set a routine – now
If parents gradually put their children to bed earlier during the last few weeks of the summer, children should be used to school sleep patterns by the time September arrives without a shock to their system, says Nicky Cohen, a clinical psychologist based in Toronto. This will help them stay alert, refreshed and ready to learn when their new school year begins.
"The other really important thing is make sure morning wake time is not too late," she says. "If a child is sleeping too late in the morning, it will definitely interfere with them falling asleep at a regular time."
Time before a child goes to sleep should be spent doing calming activities, says Joseph De Koninck, professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa's school of psychology and director of the school's sleep laboratory.
Cohen said those activities can be built into the bedtime routine, and could include baths, changing into pyjamas, brushing teeth and reading.
"There shouldn't be too much physical activity because it raises core body temperature and when temperature is higher they're less likely to be able to fall asleep," De Koninck says.
Plan on enough Zs
De Koninck says children need between nine and 10 hours of sleep. Parents should determine what time the child needs to be up in the morning and then count backwards from there.
Teenagers need about the same amount of sleep as younger children, De Koninck says, yet they rarely get it because their biological clock tends to be delayed, forcing them to stay up later and wake up after they should. It may be difficult to get teens to get their required amount of sleep, because so many spend the time before bed watching television and socializing online. Explaining to them the effects of screen time on their sleep patterns may influence them to try to hit an earlier bedtime.
Avoid screen time
In order to get children to sleep when parents put them in bed, screen time should be avoided during the last hour the children are awake.
"The use of cell phones, computers, Internet, late in the evening is not a good idea," De Koninck says. "Exposure to light is not conducive to sleep. Blue lights found in many screens of cell phones and computers will prevent the secretion of melatonin, which is very important for inducing sleep."