After a summer of late nights and slack rules on bedtime, many parents panic when school resumes and they realize the family are not ready for the switchover to early mornings. But sleep experts say there are some simple ways to get kids back into a school-time sleep schedule to ensure they can head back to class bright-eyed.
Start pushing up bedtime
If your kids' have been used to staying up late most nights this summer, now is the time to get them into bed earlier. In fact, ideally, this is a process that should have started a week or two ago, says Amanda Hudye, a certified child sleep consultant and the founder of SleepWellBaby.ca. "You certainly don't want to start the night before school. That's a night when kids are anxious, they're excited, and it's just not going to work," she told CTV Morning Live Saskatoon earlier this week.
Hudye says the trick to making the transition smooth is to shift the bedtime to an earlier hour, by small increments.
"So if bedtime was 9 p.m. and you want a 7:30 bedtime, start moving it 15 minutes earlier every three nights," she says.
"We want to gently get their bodies ready for that good night's sleep."
Ensure they get enough
Sleep deprivation has been shown in studies to affect kids in a myriad of ways, including the body's ability to regulate sugar and generate a strong immune response. A lack of sleep also makes it difficult for kids to learn in the classroom and can lead to behaviour problems. In fact, some studies are beginning to find that some kids diagnosed with ADHD might actually be feeling the effects of sleep disturbances.
But how much sleep is enough for kids?
Thomas Russell, the founder of Island Sleep Health Services in Victoria, says while adults can get by on six or seven hours of sleep a night, kids really need at least 10 hours sleep -- and some need as much as 11 or 12. Even teens need more sleep than adults, he says.
"They're growing mentally and physically, so they need more sleep," he says.
Some kids simply have higher sleep needs than others, Hudye says, and if you're wondering if your kids are getting enough, check how they act at the end of the day. Kids can often get through the school day by using adrenaline to keep them going, but it's often right after school that the tell-tale signs appear, she says.
"Young kids might not look tired because they get wired. But they often are not able to cope with day-to-day stuff, and get really tired. So you'll see meltdowns and tantrums after school just as they're getting ready for extra-curricular activities," she says.
Turn off the noise
Sleep experts agree that the key to helping kids get to sleep quickly is to ensure their brains aren't over-stimulated before bedtime. Russell calls the 60 minutes before bedtime the "golden hour" and recommends that kids and teens avoid stimulants such as sugary foods in that hour, as well as electronic devices such as cellphones and iPads.
"These artificial things, they are flashing and stimulating us before we are trying to get to sleep which is not a good thing," he says.
Certified sleep consultant Joleen Dilk Salyn, with Baby Sleep 101, goes even further: she tells CTV Morning Live Winnipeg that kids should avoid all TV and electronic devices for a full two hours before bedtime, "because it really interferes with how well with how kids fall asleep."
Set up the routines
Dilk Salyn says daytime routines are key to keeping kids on track with their sleep.
"So start waking them up at the same time, having meals at the same time... so they can be in a set routine and they can transition into bedtime a lot easier," she recommends.
Knowing what to expect matters at bedtime too, she says. So setting a routine such as bathtime, followed by pyjamas, followed by stories or reading before lights out can help smooth children's transition into quiet time.
"You want to have a very set routine and a consistent pattern so the kids know we do A, B, then C and then we get into bed," she says. "You're going to have a lot less resistance at bedtime and you're going to minimize any kind of tantrums."
Some families find creating a sleep chart helps too, Hudye says, and gets the kids involved by having put a sticker or magnet beside each step as it's completed. "And that way, it's fun for everyone," she says.
Helping kids get good sleep is so important, says Dilk Salyn, and can make a huge difference to how well our children behave and how much they absorb once they're back in school.
"Sleep really is just as important as good nutrition," she says.
With a report from CTV's Erin Glazier in Victoria