As we sit on the cusp of a new school year, plenty of uncertainty and anxiety still surrounds us (who ordered a March 2020 flashback..?)
As it stands, there is still plenty that is up in the air; will all of the schools re-open? Will we be returning to working from home? Will our kids go back to learning in -person or virtually, and will they cope?
One thing that we can do for our families, is try to get a handle on our sleep. Whether we’re at home learning or hopping on the school bus for in-person lessons, children need restorative sleep now more than ever. After all, sleep boosts our immune system and enriches our bodies and as a community, we need resilient immune systems now more than ever! Did you know that when we routinely achieve 6 hours of sleep or less a night, we are 4 TIMES more likely to catch a cold? Crazy! Together, let’s get your families rested, thriving and healthy; ready for the new school year.
Transitioning from Summer-time fun to long school days is tough for kids and early bedtimes usually go out of the window when we’re enjoying beach trips, bbq’s and pool days. Let’s breakdown how and when to get our kids back on track:
Early bedtimes – From toddlers to pre-teens, the age-appropriate bedtime is between 6:30 and 7:30pm
Biological sleep needs mean the timings at which children’s bodies have prepped them for sleep
When we wake in the morning, our body begins to gradually produce sleepy hormones, such as melatonin, that peak at our optimum times for sleep
These peaks, or “sleep waves” happen at predictable times on the clock according to age group
Night time sleep waves peak for all children under the teenage range between 6:30 and 7:30pm (and around 8:30/9:00pm for most teenagers)
When our bodies have prepped us for sleep but bedtime is not offered, they go into overdrive producing stimulants, such as adrenaline, to help fight through the fatigue until sleep is offered
These natural stimulants help keep us going but can really work against us when we eventually try and get some sleep
Children will respond to this phase by becoming “wired” and overstimulated. Ever heard of the witching hour? That’s what this is! Overtired children going crazy during their second wind, before eventually crashing with exhaustion
By utilizing an early bedtime, we want to have our kids in bed, ready for sleep, at the time of their natural sleep wave. That means by 7:30, we’ve had dinner, shower/bath time, pj’s on, stories read and they’re lying in bed ready for sleep.
By offering an early bedtime in support of our children’s biological sleep needs, we can get on the front end of exhaustion and better ensure a peaceful night’s sleep.
2. Early bedtimes also help capture as much deep sleep as possible
Deep sleep or NREM sleep happens in-line with our circadian rhythm (body clock)
The first available phase of deep sleep occurs in the early part of the night, between 8:00 and 10:00pm
Getting our kids in bed by 7:30 at the latest, means we enabling them to capture as much available deep sleep as possible
The benefits of NREM deep sleep:
Boosts our immune system! NREM is the phase of sleep that boosts the immune system and help fight illness
Commits learning to memory: NREM sleep is the phase during which our brains process daytime learning and commits it to long-term memory – so important for our children’s learning capabilities! Overtired children just cannot absorb learning at their full potential
Now, I know what your thinking; it’s all well and good me advising you to get kids to bed early but, there’s no way they will be keen!
Granted, getting to bed early is usually nobody’s favorite past time; but, setting the scene with downtime will really help get them on board:
3. The importance of downtime
School days are packed with activity and stimulation and it can be challenging to wind down after a busy day
In the late afternoon, allowing kids to wind down with quiet activities such as reading, building sets (legos, blocks etc.), or puzzles will keep kids engaged but what is key is that they’re not overstimulating. Quiet activities actually support the body’s natural slow down process as their sleep hormones increase and the day comes to a close which will help them to relax and unwind
Conversely, virtual learning can mean that kids do not have enough output of energy throughout the day
Running drills in the backyard or neighborhood before dinnertime will allow them to release physical energy before the wind down begins
Taking a walk while throwing sacks for them to sprint to is a great game for them to channel energy bursts!
Before the pools close for the season, a pre-dinner swim is great way to expel pent up energy and will work up a great appetite for dinnertime!
Quality time: using the pre-bedtime phase to really connect as a family, put down the distractions and spend one-on-one time together will really fill up their emotional tank and help them relax ready for sleep
Turn down the lights and allow the natural process of sleep to be fully supported. Once our bodies detect darkness, it slows down and prepares for sleep. Closing the blinds and turning down the lights, even when it’s still light outside, will really help to prep our kids ready for peaceful rest
4. Reduce screen-time:
When our brains detect white or blue light, it actually inhibits the natural production of melatonin making it really challenging to fall asleep
30 minutes of screen time can delay the on-set of sleep by as much as 1 hour!
Turning off all screens for at least 2 hours before bedtime will really support children’s natural process for sleep and make bedtimes much more peaceful
School days are packed with activity and stimulation and it can be challenging to wind down after a busy day. Conversely, virtual learning can mean that kids do not have enough output of energy
5. Name it to tame it
Children are sponges for our energy and even when we think we’re keeping a lid on our brewing tension, they’ve already picked up on it. With the chaos of 2020/2021, we are naturally anxious and pensive about changes within our communities and uncertainty still hangs over this upcoming school year. By taking the time to have an age-appropriate conversation with our kids about how we’re all feeling and putting a name to the “why”, it allows them to put a name to the emotions they’re feeling and understanding that you’re going through it too will help validate them tremendously.
Anxieties will usually present the strongest at bedtime so don’t be surprised if your usually independent 6-year-old starts to have a hard time with you leaving their room at bedtime
Working through what we’re all feeling and talking about ways to channel these emotions with tools such as tummy breathing while lying in bed (deep inhalation through the nose expanding the tummy, out through the mouth) or drawing pictures detailing how stress makes us feel will help them work through this time and not keep their emotions bottled up; which will make nighttime’s much more peaceful!
Challenges will often find us when it comes to our children’s sleep but keeping on the front end of over tiredness will be a huge help for your family. If you’re finding yourselves fumbling in the dark for a solution to disrupted family sleep, that’s ok!As a Certified Pediatric Sleep Specialist, I am here to support you through it and get your family sleeping. With effective sleep behavior strategies and on-going follow-up support, down time, date nights and a Jolly Good Night’s sleep are well within your reach!