LIMA — The calendar may technically still say “July,” but back-to-school season is just around the corner. And before families know it, those unstructured summer days will soon be a thing of the past.
In order to help ease the kiddos back into their school year sleep schedules, parents may want to think about implementing changes sooner rather than later. Jennifer Jacobs, a physician assistant at the Center for Pulmonary Medicine in Lima, explained why this is so crucial.
“With school rapidly approaching, one of the recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep is a couple of weeks before school starts, start transitioning bedtime by about 15 minutes every night,” Jacobs said. “Just keep making it earlier and earlier. And waking the kids up 15 minutes earlier and earlier, until they get to their normal sleep schedule for school.”
As difficult as it might be at first, caregivers should aim to try to keep that same schedule on the weekends, too, just to help keep them transitioning. “I’m sure the kids are going to love this,” she added with a laugh. “But it’s one of the easiest ways to transition them back in.”
Establishing routine bedtime patterns — such as brushing their teeth or reading a story for younger ones — and doing them at the same time every night can help the kiddos wind down and prepare for sleep. In order to further help the kiddos fall asleep when they should, it’s important to instill healthy sleep habits, Jacobs explained.
This means no electronics in the bedroom, including phones, tablets and anything with a screen.
“The bright lights from them are very stimulating, and it tells your body to stay awake,” Jacobs said. “So getting into good sleep hygiene helps, and when we talk about sleep hygiene, it’s more of the pattern we use to go to bed.”
Likewise, when it’s still light out so late, room-darkening curtains can help because making kids’ sleep environments as dark, cool and quiet as possible can help them get the best sleep.
“We know if kids don’t get the proper amount of sleep, they’re going to have more mood swings,” Jacobs said. “If they are lacking the sleep, you’re going to see behavior issues. They’re not going to be as focused in school. And so it is very important that kids get the amount of sleep they need to.”
And the amount of sleep kids actually need is probably more than they’re actually getting: Between 10 and 11 hours a night, Jacobs noted. “A lot of kids just don’t get that. But for the best performance at school, the best behavior, they need to have a good routine,” Jacobs said.
Marcia Barnhart — who worked as a kindergarten teacher and an intervention specialist for 33 years in Leipsic — agrees that bedtime routines are crucial in helping kids develop healthy sleep habits.
“It’s important that you establish a bedtime routine — whether it be a bath, or a book, or say your prayers, eat snack, or whatever,” Barnhart said. “Do the same thing every night. Then they know it’s time to wind down. And it’s important to limit screen time close to bedtime, so they can be more relaxed and ready to go to bed.”
As a mother and grandmother, Barnhart acknowledged that kids probably won’t be tired when parents try putting them to bed earlier.
“If they’re not ready to sleep yet at that time, put them in bed with either a book or a favorite toy 15 minutes early each night until you get to the time you want to have their bedtime be,” Barnhart said. “It’s all right to have quiet time. You can tell them, ‘quiet time,’ they can rest. Eventually, they’ll go to sleep.”
Older children in particular may resist earlier bedtimes, especially when it’s still light outside so late.
“I think if it’s an older child, it’s important to tell them school’s important and they’re getting ready for the school routine,” Barnhart said. “And if the kids see that school’s important to the parents, then they’ll think it’s important.”
“Just as important as bedtime, the morning routine is important, too,” Barnhart added. “Because if you’re putting them to bed early now in hopes of getting them up for school, then you need to start getting them up in the morning and have a similar routine with them, too, to get them off to a good start when school starts.”
Reach Michelle Stein at firstname.lastname@example.org.