4 tips to get kids on a back-to-school sleep schedule

Sleep doula Tracey Ruiz suggests getting an early start on back-to-school sleep routines. Mrs_2015/Getty Images

It’s the time of year that children dread and parents adore: summer’s winding down and the school year approaches.

Along with your back-to-school shopping, there’s another way you can get a beneficial head start on the school year: getting kids off their summertime sleep habits and back into a more healthy, structured schedule.

Toronto sleep doula Tracey Ruiz says the time is ripe to re-introduce those schedules and get the year off to a good start.

“There’s a lot of health benefits to children getting their sleep, but especially going back into the school year… it’s hard enough to get your butt out of bed, but when you’re overtired and you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s hard to concentrate in that classroom,” she warns.

She offers several tips for parents trying to get their kids back on a more academics-oriented sleep rhythm.

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Ease back into a schedule

“The main thing right now is getting them back on schedule,” she explains. “For example, if wake-up time is going to be… 7:30 in the morning and right now they’re going to bed at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, you want to slowly start merging towards [earlier] times.

“Especially the week before school starts, I would be in the exact same schedule — especially on the wake-up times — as when they’ll be back to school, or the teachers are just going to end up with a lot of exhausted kids.”

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And with about three weeks until the start of the school year, she advises getting started soon.

Of course, kids won’t be keen on starting earlier bedtimes, but Ruiz says parents can counter some of the resistance with good communication and perserverance. “The more heads-up notice you give them, the better it is,” she says. “And it’s really just about setting the limits with them, and not letting them negotiate. The key thing now is right now, kids are always saying, ‘But I don’t go to school tomorrow!’ so start non-negotiating now.”

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Resurrect routines

Parents can be more laissez-faire about summertime sleeping habits, but that attitude could create problems come September.

“I find kids now are just passing out,” Ruiz says. “They’re getting into the habits of falling asleep on the couch or in the backyard, and they’re not incorporating that nice bedtime routine of having a bath, pyjamas, reading a book or two and bed.”

She suggests bringing back those bedtime routines as another way of easing kids back into a school sleep schedule.

Trim the screen time

Summertime likely means more TV, video games and other activities that have kids blankly staring at a screen. Problem is, that screen time can interfere with their shut-eye.

Electronic amusements can stimulate the brain and get neurons firing, which is exactly what you don’t want as you’re trying to shut down and sleep. Also, the glow from a screen can affect production of melatonin, the so-called “sleep hormone.”

Ruiz recommends allowing a healthy interval between powering down and lying down.

“At least a half an hour before they go to bed, you want to decrease that screen time,” she says. “That means no phones, no iPads. I’m seeing at houses now, where parents let their kids bring their electronics to bed. [Designate] a spot at night where everybody puts their device, and put them away at least 30 minutes before bedtime.”
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Slash the sugar

Summertime is sugar time, which isn’t very conducive to sleep. Ruiz urges parents to cut back on the sweet stuff, particularly closer to bedtime.

“Watch what you’re giving them food-wise at night,” she says. “Now you’re having the bonfires with marshmallows, so decrease their sugar content at night as well.”

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