It’s back to the classroom for our primary school children but teaching them about the importance of a good night’s sleep is an essential life lesson. The beginning of a new school year and change in the season offers a great opportunity to create an improved bedtime routine for the whole family.
Sleep expert Dave Gibson, founder of thesleepsite.co.uk and Co-author of The Art of Falling Asleep has this advice for parents…
1) Work out how much sleep your child needs during the new school year. On average, three to five-year-olds need between 10 to 13 hours sleep, six to 13-year-olds need 9 to 11 hours, and teenagers eight to 10 hours. These are general guidelines and will vary from child to child so base the total hours on your experience and parental insight – you know your child best.
Theoretically, as your child gets older they would expect to go to bed later. For example, a six-year-old who went bed at 7.30pm would expect to go to bed a lot later by the time they left primary school. Typically, if your child had 10 ¾ hours of sleep as a six- year-old, you would expect to reduce this by 15 minutes a year. This means that by the time they get to 13 they will be having nine hours sleep a night.
2) Discuss, especially with teenagers, and mutually agree an acceptable bedtime during holidays and term time. You should start to wean your child off their holiday time late nights and onto the new bedtime and wake time towards the start of term time. Calculate how far off your child is from their designated school bedtime and adjust it by 15 minutes earlier every day for both their bedtime and wake time. So, if your child is going to bed at 9.30pm and the new school bedtime is 8.30pm, it will take you four days to make the adjustment. The idea is to get your child adjusted to their new routine the day before school starts, this will give them the right amount of sleep for their age group and personal needs.
3) Make sure that this new bedtime works. If your child finds it hard to wake up in the morning and is groggy rather than alert during breakfast, you will need to adjust their bedtime to an earlier time.
4) Re-establish good sleep hygiene. This generally means having a wind-down routine, which starts about an hour before bed. Computer games, homework, and social media are all stopped an hour before bedtime. A bath or bedtime story could be used for younger school kids and reading for older. Packing books, setting out clothes for the next day, brushing teeth (without a bright bathroom light on) and putting on pyjamas, all form part of a good sleep habit. If you do the same thing each night before bed, the routine will start becoming a cue to the brain that it’s almost time for sleep.
5) Keep to the routine even at weekends. Our brains and body clocks like habits and a consistent sleep routine seven days a week makes it easier for your child to get to sleep in the week.
6) Encourage your child to have a healthy lifestyle. Eliminate all caffeine such as coffee-based drinks, energy drinks, and dark chocolate. Get them to exercise regularly, which will also help them sleep better.
7) Ideally, all technology should be kept out of the bedroom, but with modern teenagers’ use of social media, this is increasingly more difficult to enforce. Equally, schoolchildren tend to prefer studying on computers in their bedroom. In all cases, technology that emits blue light should be stopped at least 60 minutes before bed. Ideally, nighttime modes and screen dimmers should be used throughout the evening.
8) Keep phones out of the bedroom overnight! This should be a family rule rather than just for your children as it makes the boundary easier to enforce and accept. Use a traditional alarm to wake up or preferably, a dawn simulator.
9) Get your child interested in sleep and the bedroom. Educate them about why sleep is important in terms of brain development and how consistent and regular routines work. Encourage them to make their bedroom a perfect place to sleep; cool, dark, and quiet. If their mattress or pillow is uncomfortable or old, get a new one and allow older children to have a budget to buy it. Get them to try it in-store so it becomes ‘their special mattress or pillow’.
10) Set a good example. One rule for all the family is a good place to start. Make sure you keep the same seven-day schedules too, no coffee and a similar sleep routine with a one-hour break from technology before bed.
Expert advice thanks to Warren Evan’s online magazine Sleep Tips working in partnership with sleep expert Dave Gibson. Find at warrenevans.com