If you want your child to have a successful school year, start by helping them improve their sleep habits. Taking the time to enhance your child’s sleep hygiene can bring about a host of physical and mental health benefits. Studies show that better sleep habits lead to better cognitive performance and, thus, better grades. On top of that, helping your child get sufficient rest can positively impact elements of their mental health, lowering their risk for depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior and more.
Transitioning your child to an earlier wake-up time for school may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. A consistent sleep schedule, healthy eating patterns and crucial end-of-day rituals (think taking a warm bath or cuddling with a weighted blanket) can all go a long way in promoting a restorative night’s rest (for all ages, mind you). Here are a few back-to-school sleep tips to ensure your child gets the rest they need.
1- Make Adjustments in Increments
Unless your child was in summer camp or worked a full-time job, they likely spent the entire summer waking up whenever they wanted. In other words, don’t expect them to adopt a healthy sleep schedule right away. For a smooth transition, encourage your child to shift their schedule gradually, in 15-minute increments. (Bonus tip: Try to have a cool glass of water ready for them upon waking up. It helps with the grogginess!) If possible, you want to start the transition at least a week prior to school to give them time to adjust to their new schedule.
2- Encourage Consistency
Keeping a consistent sleep schedule — even on the weekends — is crucial for all age groups, but it’s especially important for teens. Teens and tweens tend to maintain later sleep and wake times due to natural hormonal changes. Sleeping longer on Saturday and Sunday can cause their internal clocks to further drift away from the ideal school sleep schedule, so maintaining consistency is their best bet for getting sufficient sleep.
3- Keep Their Bedroom Dark in the Evening
The sun’s light/dark cycle strongly influences our circadian rhythms. Exposure to bright light, whether natural or artificial, increases our alertness, making it harder to fall asleep. In contrast, a pitch-black environment promotes sleep by flooding the body with the sleep hormone melatonin. So, to help your child sleep, invest in a set of blackout curtains and keep them closed at night. (You could also get them a weighted eye mask, which promotes relaxation on top of blocking light.) In the morning, turn on the lights in their bedroom and encourage them to take a quick stroll around the neighborhood to help jumpstart their day.
4- Ban Tech From the Bedroom
If your family has a healthy relationship with technology, you likely have limits on when your kids can and can’t use their digital devices. The dinner table is perhaps the most obvious one. But what about your child’s bedroom? The screens of gaming systems, smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices all produce blue light, which studies show can negatively impact the sleep of children and adolescents. Sit your child down and explain the importance of limiting screen use before bedtime. And don’t forget to model good behavior by making your own bedroom a technology-free zone.
5- Pare Down Ultra-Busy Schedules
Between the heavy school workloads, extracurricular activities and college application prep, today’s children and adolescents are busier than ever. It’s no surprise that an estimated 87 percent of American high schoolers aren’t getting the sleep they need. If your teen seems stressed out and exhausted, give them permission to drop a class or an unnecessary extracurricular. At the end of the day, their sleep is more important than music lessons or student council.
6- Encourage Relaxing Nighttime Rituals
Similar to how morning rituals can set your child up for a day of success, engaging in relaxing activities before bed can prepare them for a blissful night’s sleep. Sleep experts say that when you perform the same set of tasks before bed every night, your brain begins to see them as a precursor for sleep. Relaxing bedtime rituals for kids include reading a book, listening to a soothing music playlist, stretching, or taking a hot bath.
7- Help Them Stay Active
Helping your child build a healthy relationship with exercise is one of the best things you can do for their sleep and overall health. According to Cleveland Clinic, regular physical activity decreases sleep complaints and insomnia in patients and appears to be just as effective as prescription sleep medications. To encourage exercise, focus on fun activities your child enjoys and try to get their friends involved. The more fun they have, the more likely they will keep exercising.
8- Watch Their Caffeine Intake
We all know about caffeine’s connection to sleep problems. Soda, energy drinks, chocolate, and other caffeine sources can keep your child awake at all hours of the night. On top of that, it can cause irritability, headaches, upset stomach, and nervousness. School-aged children are susceptible to the effects of caffeine, so it’s important to limit their consumption. But beware of cutting them off cold turkey! Abruptly stopping caffeine intake can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating in school.
When All Else Fails, Schedule a Checkup
If you’ve taken the advice above and your child is still experiencing sleep problems during the school year, don’t wait to schedule a checkup with their doctor. From sleep apnea to night terrors, numerous sleep disorders can rob your child of the rest they desperately need to thrive inside and outside of the classroom. Even slight disruptions to your child’s sleep can affect their day-to-day life, so getting them evaluated by a medical professional is a smart move.
Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Consult your medical care providers for medical advice, treatments, and follow-up.