For many families with young kids, the lack of a consistent bedtime or a predictable sleep routine has been a reality since mid-March 2020, when everything changed. We’re anxious and juggling so much—it's no wonder that consistent bedtimes, tear-free mornings, and a good night's sleep aren't easy right now. But the time for late summer nights and slow wake-ups has officially come to an end. It’s the first week of fall, and school—offered in many different formats this year, depending on where you live—is already underway.
It's hard to know what the next few months will bring. We’re all worried about our health and safety, and that means sleep needs to be a priority. Quality shut-eye supports your child’s overall health.
To start, take a look at sleep environments and sleep hygiene. You’ll also need a plan that supports your kids' emotional wellbeing and keeps them well-rested so that they can work through all those big “back to school” feelings.
Here are seven ways that parents can set their child up for sleep success now that we’re off and running into the new school year.
No doubt your children have heard you say for the last few weeks that bedtimes were going to be earlier once school was back in session. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to formally communicate the new routines to avoid any confusion or frustration each morning and each evening. Have a family meeting to discuss why sleep routines are changing and what the new expectations are. Whether it’s your six year old or your teenager, talk to them about why we need sleep and what happens when we don’t get enough of it.
A bedtime routine that includes similar activities every night helps prepare the body for sleep and releases melatonin, our sleepy hormone. Get your kids involved in creating a bedtime routine that works for them. If your kids are younger, a visual chart might help.
Allowing enough time for winding-down activities and connection after busy days can go a really long way in making bedtime more enjoyable for everyone. Some great wind-down activities include colouring, reading a book, writing in a journal, listening to soft music or doing some light yoga stretching.
When’s the last time you’ve really looked at your child’s bedroom and made sure it was set up for sleep success? Ideally, their sleep environment needs to be free of distractions and clutter, but should include elements that help create a positive sleep space.
White noise is a great tool if you have a child or teen that has trouble blocking out other sounds while settling to sleep. It can also make it easier to settle back to sleep if they wake in the night.
If your child is doing online learning this year, try your best to create a separate space for school that is not part of their sleep space. If you do need to use their bedroom for online school, have a plan to clean up the space each night before bed and put things away.
That means removing the laptop and stashing papers and books in a drawer. Leaving them out in the open while your child tries to fall asleep can make it much more difficult for them to quiet their minds. They may get stuck thinking about that assignment due the next day or what time their first online lesson starts in the morning.
This is especially important for middle and high schoolers. Create a family docking station so that electronics such as phones and tablets are not coming into their bedrooms at night. Try to have all tech docked an hour before bedtime as it can be hard to wind down after engaging in stimulating activities, like TV, computer games, and Internet usage.
There have been so many changes in the last couple years that have required our kids to be flexible and resilient. The new school year is certainly shaping up to be no different, with class quarantines and periods of virtual school. We can anticipate that the transition may result in an increase in anxiety and stress for some kids.
Here’s what parents can do to help their child work through it so they don’t carry those worries and stresses into bedtime.
For teens who are social beings, less in-person schooling will be a tough adjustment. Work with them to help bridge those missing connections by looking at what they can still be involved in whether virtually or in person.
Let’s keep it real and admit that the start of this new school year is not ideal for anyone. But if we’ve learned anything in the last two years, it’s how well we can adapt. We will absolutely find some positives in the process, too.
As we all work hard to handle the changes to our routines, make it a priority to keep your family well rested. Not only will this help everyone manage stress, but you’ll be boosting your family’s overall health and wellness too, which can help ward off illness.
Alanna McGinn is a sleep consultant, mom of three, and the founder of Good Night Sleep Site.