During the school break and long holidays, when we don’t have a mad rush for the school or nursery run, our kids routines and sleep habits can change.
Bedtimes may have slipped later, mornings might be slower with longer lie-ins (we know that’s hard to hear if you have an early riser!) and our day-to-day routines can easily go a little off track.
You’re getting ready for the start of a new term; uniforms are ironed, PE kit is washed, pencil cases restocked…and now you just need to get back into a routine ready for the first day back! Read on for tips to help you get sleep back on track so you don’t dread that morning wake-up alarm…
A great night's sleep is the perfect preparation for a day at school.
It might be a challenge to get everyone up and out of the house on time, but if you’ve all had a well rested night, then it can make things a lot smoother.
Helping our kids get the sleep they need plays a vital part in their overall mental and physical health and well-being.
Getting adequate sleep is linked to improved attention, ability to learn, focus, store memories and overall mood and energy levels. The first days back at school can be particularly tiring, so prioritising sleep is a worthwhile effort.
Start as you mean to go on...
A crucial part of preparing for the new term is establishing an age appropriate, restful and positive sleep routine that works for your child.
If you have a few days to get back on track, then you can gradually adjust bedtime and wake times in preparation for the first day of term.
Many children get into the habit of going to bed later during the holidays – partly due to the weather, but also our routines are different, and previous ‘good’ bedtime habits may have slipped.
It is helpful to try to move their internal body clocks gradually, as if you suddenly try to put them to be an hour earlier for example, you will likely be met with resistance – and quite possibly a child who is not yet ready to sleep.
This can then result in them being more tired the next day, and unable to concentrate. Move their bedtime by 5-10 mins per day, across a week or so if you can. If they are already back at school, you can begin gradually making bedtime earlier, to help them with the early starts of school.
If you are able to get out early in the mornings in advance of starting school as a practice run, this can really help. It feels less painful when they have to get up to start back at school for real!
If you have a child who is starting school or nursery for the first time you may find that they have a staggered start. Take advantage of this time and stay on track with your routine. You can even practice the commute to school! This will help with working out your timings going forward.
Try to also stick with regular wake and sleep times at the weekend, even if it feels tricky. The consistency in this helps our bodies know when to feel tired, and when to wake up and be alert and ready for learning.
How much sleep does your child need?
Finding the right bedtime (and wake up time!) for your child will make creating a relaxing bedtime routine much easier. Every child has their own individual sleep needs, but it can be helpful to know what the average needs are to give you a starting point:
- 3-5 year olds: 10-13 hours (including naps)
- 6-12 year olds: 9-12 hours
- 13-18 year olds: 8-10 hours
Think about screens:
If screen time has increased during the holidays, you aren’t alone!
Electronic devices, such as phones, tablets and TV, all emit blue light, which can disrupt our sleep. It is best for your child (and you!) to avoid them for at least an hour before bedtime.
If you have an older child who has their own phone, it can be useful for this to be kept out of their bedroom during the night – either in a box or charging in another room.
Messages and notifications, or games and chatting online can be a huge barrier to sleep – and the temptation to spend longer on our phones than we mean to is strong!
Can I have another snack?
During the holidays, snack requests can seem to multiply daily! Many families find that convenience food and extra sugar can creep in quite a bit – neither are helpful with our sleep!
As a starting point, think about limiting sugar or stimulants in the afternoon/evenings. Be mindful of caffeine in soft drinks and chocolate.
Exercise and natural light:
Getting outside and keeping active are two of the most effective things we can do to help our bodies sleep well.
Our circadian rhythm (our internal body clock) is heavily influenced by daylight. Try to spend time outdoors wherever possible, even grey cloudy days are beneficial.
Moving our bodies is also important, so that we feel physically tired. Young people especially, need to move a lot across the day!
Starting school for the first time:
If your child is about to start school or nursery for the very first time, be prepared that they might be much more tired than usual.
Some little ones are even napping up until they go to school, and in most settings this will no longer be possible.
It is okay if they need to nap at the weekend to make up for it, or if they need a short nap when they get in from school.
But, be mindful that they don’t nap for too long or too late, or it can mean bedtime is pushed back much later and make the next morning tricky. An early bedtime might be a better option for some children than a post-school nap.
Not a fan of the morning alarm clock?
If you are struggling to wake your child in the mornings, sneak into their room in the morning and open the curtains 20 minutes before they are due to get up. The natural light will help!
If it is still light at their bedtime, or you have a lot of streetlights outside your home, then black out blinds can really help them fall asleep a little earlier and help them feel better rested in the morning.
Make the mornings as smooth as possible. Be prepared with their clothes/uniform laid out the night before, and a healthy breakfast. This will help if you are pushed for time. I like overnight oats, so they are ready to eat immediately, or some good protein to start the day like a boiled or fried egg on toast.
Make time to connect:
Once everyone is on a new schedule it can start to feel very busy, with lots of change and new things happening. This often means your child will want to spend time with you to feel grounded.
Try to factor in some one-to-one time, before their bedtime routine so that they can talk to you, play a game with you, or even go for a walk. It is important not to rush through the early evening, even if you are tired yourself. It can mean they stall at bedtime, as they are subconsciously craving that time with you, rather than wanting to go to sleep.
You will of course, have other school holidays come up in the future, and while flexibility is important, its always good to maintain our sleep hygiene.
This means getting enough sleep at night, and providing the best conditions possible for this.
This can look like; no screens in our rooms, breathable cotton bedding, keeping the room a little on the cooler side (we sleep much better when its colder!), and a good wind down routine before we get into bed.
A warm bath, a bedtime story or guided or independent reading is great.
I also highly recommend an amber coloured reading light. These are sleep-friendly colours and don’t interfere with the process of our body getting ready to go to sleep. We produce a hormone called melatonin (otherwise known as the vampire hormone!) which helps us feel sleepy, and we want to work with this, not against it.
Need help getting your own sleep on track?
As parents, we spend most of our time focused on our children’s sleep needs and juggling the day-to-day demands of life. It is easy to forget to prioritise our own sleep and give ourselves the rest we need.
If you are struggling with your own sleep, either falling asleep at the start of the night or getting back to sleep if you wake in the night, then we can help!
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