So maybe you let your little one stay up later than usual this summer one or two times. Okay, maybe summer started two months too early with no end in sight and it was more than a few times but who's counting? I'm not judging. Honestly.
As a sleep consultant I would tell you to stick to your bedtime routine 100% of the time. As a mother, I know how valuable summer is and I fully understand wanting to stretch your days as long as possible and let them have their fun. As a mother of young children during a pandemic, I understand that things have been kooky, and some days are pure survival.
So no matter what might have happened over the summer vacation, all is forgiven. The mission now is to get your child back on track so that they can get back to sleep at a reasonable hour before they head back to a learning schedule whether that be at home, in class or somewhere in between.
Here are some quick tips you can start right away:
1. Get back to Early Bedtimes:
So what time should that be exactly? For children under 12, I suggest somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00. Kids need at least 10 hours of sleep a night, so if your preschooler needs to be up by 7:00 A.M. in order to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9:00 at the absolute latest. Factor in the time it takes them to fall asleep, and attempt to get their ever long list of requests met, then 8:00 is pretty much the latest they can get to bed and still get the sleep they need.
Another reason I suggest early bedtime is for you! Parents need their down time, and for those of you homeschooling this year, this especially cannot be overlooked. You need to be able to watch TV with swear words and sexual innuendo, to be able to eat snacks outside of the pantry where you normally hide, have a drink with you partner to discuss gown up things... or whatever.
2. Don't Leave it to the Last Minute:
I know some of you have already dropped your kids off for their first day, but if you still have a few days or weeks until the big day, don't wait to get them back on track.
If they’ve been going to bed at around 9:00 for the better part of their summer, try moving bedtime up by about 15 minutes every 4 days until you’re back to their normal bedtime. If this requires a little deception on your part by adjusting the clocks in their room, you just go ahead and get deceptive. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means.
3. Establish or Reestablish and Bedtime Routine:
If you had a routine before the summer that worked well, get back to that. The familiarity of the routine will likely help settle you child fairly quickly.
On the other hand, if this is your first go at implementing a bedtime routine, let me just stress how much easier a repetitive, predictable bedtime routine can make your life. When your child’s body and brain start to associate things like baths, stories, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it cues up their melatonin production, making sleep come easier. I seriously can’t recommend bedtime routines highly enough.
4. Use a Timer
All parents have become victim to stall tactics more than once I'm sure.
If you find yourself in a power struggle over starting the bedtime routine, a timer can be your best friend for keeping things on schedule, and as silly as it may sound, takes the blame off of you and puts it on the timer.
5. Turn off Screens:
Along with being lenient on routines, I for one have been much more lax on screen time. Again, no judgement...right? There is no homework to be done, and let's be honest... it is haaaaard to entertain children ALL quarantine long. Mama needs to sit down for a minute at scroll through instagram!
The thing about screens, whether they’re phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they put out a massive amount of blue light. Our brains associate blue light with sunshine, and therefore daytime, so screens before bed can actually have the unwanted effect of firing your kid’s system back up when it should be powering down. Along with that, it is too stimulating for bedtime and is linked to increase in nightmares. Try to avoid any screen time for at least one to two hours before bed. (Side note, this also applies to adults, so if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try reading instead of watching TV.)
6. Keep it Dark:
If your child’s bedroom is still lit up when you’re putting them to bed, I suggest investing in a set of blackout blinds. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy (I have used black trash bags or tin foil in a pinch).