Ah, back to school.
It’s the time of year that beach days and late summer nights are replaced with school supply shopping and early bedtimes...or so you hope.
Every year, despite the multiple email reminders sent from the school and seeing store shelves stocked with the trendiest backpacks and pencil boxes in July, I always feel like back-to-school season creeps up on me.
Summer just never seems to last long enough.
But no matter how much I (or my kids) resist it—the first day of school always comes, and here we are just a week away (or for some of you, a week in).
Thankfully we have adopted a few practices over the years that have made the adjustment a bit easier for the whole family—especially when it comes to sleep.
Here’s how you can help your family get back on track with a back-to-school bedtime routine:
1. Set an earlier bedtime.
Children naturally stay up later during the summer for many reasons. So, making the switch from relaxing summer days and sleeping in to waking up earlier and being ready to head out the door can feel like a huge adjustment.
The best approach to take is a gradual one.
Even if your child has already started school, you can still slowly start to move up bedtime by 15 or 20 minutes each night until you reach an appropriate time. Recommended bedtimes vary by age, but generally speaking you should shoot for 12 hours of sleep a night for your child.
2. Plan activities and meal schedules ahead of time.
The beginning of the school year can also bring an assortment of after school activities. In our household, we have exactly 1.5 hours in between after school pickup and football practice so dinnertime is either 4:30 or 7:30 p.m.
We choose the earlier of the two 80% of the time.
Scheduling meals earlier in the day can help avoid food-related disturbances at night and help promote earlier bedtimes. Plus, it will give your child plenty of time to unwind before bed.
3. Make bedtime a habit for the whole family.
It is best to set bedtime as close as possible for all children in the household.
If one child feels left out because he has an earlier bedtime than his sister, it’ll probably be more difficult for him to adjust.
You can also have everyone in the family participate in the bedtime routine which help promotes healthy sleep habits in general.
4. Keep your bedtime routine consistent.
Children long for routine more than most of us realize.
When they know what to expect, it helps give them a sense of security and support—making bedtime a whole lot easier.
Your child might look forward to the time you spend each night putting her to sleep so try and take the same steps each night as you prepare for bed with your little one.
5. Limit screen time before bed.
Bright lights (especially those from TV and phone screens) can cause over-stimulation and reduce melatonin, making it difficult for your child to fall asleep.
It is best to reserve screen time for late afternoon or early evening—not right before bedtime.
Instead, opt for a book or a quiet activity that promotes a more calm environment prior to bedtime.
Overall, don’t forget that transitioning your children from one season to the next can certainly brings its own set of challenges. Patience and consistency are crucial during any transition. And while change can take some time, by emphasizing healthy sleep habits, your children will naturally fall back into a rhythm and all will be OK. Mama—you’ve got this!