How to get your kids' sleep back on track before school
Ariana Birnbaum reads to put her five-year-old daughter Noa Brown to bed in Toronto on Wednesday, July 25, 2012. Birnbaum is firm on getting her children back into routines before school begins. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu.
Published Sunday, August 26, 2012 7:30AM EDT
Homework and early bedtimes might feel like a distant memory in the midst of summer vacation. But with September and the start of school creeping ever closer, children of all ages need to get more sleep and get back into a routine to make ready for the busy days ahead.
“Often times with the summer we really get off track,” said infant sleep training professional Desiree Cluff, owner of the Vancouver service called Rockababy.
“We want to get back into a routine and get back into it smoothly,” Cluff told CTV British Columbia this week.
Transitioning back into a school-friendly routine, however, may be a challenge for some parents with younger children who have been allowed to stay up late during the summer months to watch TV and movies.
Parents with teenagers may also find this transition difficult, particularly after a summer filled with movies, parties, concerts, sporting events and other evening outings with friends and family.
The trick, according to Cluff, is to slide children of all ages back into a routine gently before the school year begins.
“The idea is to create habits over the next couple of weeks ahead to help children make a smooth transition into a school-day schedule,” she said.
One of the best ways to begin this transition is by easing kids into earlier bed times.
“A lot of kids aren’t getting enough sleep,” said Cluff, who launched her service after spending a decade working as a nanny.
“People think eight hours is a good sleep for most people. But healthy sleep [for children] is between 10 or 12 hours a night,” she said.
Her recommendation is to use dinner time as the starting point to push youngsters back to an earlier bedtime.
“Between 6:30 and 8 pm is the ideal bed time for children all the way up to kindergarten,” said Cluff.
“Have dinner, then make bath time the last play of the day,” she said.
As part of the wind-down time, play soft music in the bathroom and bedroom areas in your home and turn the lights down low.
Treat little ones to a comforting massage after their baths with an eco-friendly, non-toxic oil.
Finally, read children relaxing bedtime stories at the end of the day to help encourage sleep.
Teenagers, too, should also try to push back their sleep routine gradually, said Cluff.
“If you do anything overwhelming it’s not going to work. So try to push an hour back now to get more sleep in and create a realistic habit,” she said.
According to a new study published in the journal, Child Development, teens who do not get adequate amounts of sleep are likely to have more academic problems at school – including lack of concentration and poor performance on tests.
That was particularly evident among teens who stayed up late to cram for exams. Despite their efforts, the teenagers were less likely to perform at an optimum level the next day in school.
Before those patterns can begin again, teenagers can ease back into an adequate sleep routine by eliminating caffeine from their diets three to five hours before bedtime.
Finally, consider this final bit of advice from Amy Wolfson, a professor of psychology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
In an August interview with NPR, Wolson recommended that children should put away their computers and mobile devices an hour before they go to bed. Ongoing texting and playing computer games will interfere with a good night’s sleep.