During the summer, it’s only natural for sleep to take a back seat and for those good habits you worked on during the school year fall to the wayside. I get it. I know how precious the summer months are. If it’s a choice between an early bedtime or an at-home nap or staying up to watch the fireworks or take a snooze on the beach…hey, that’s a no brainer.

No matter what might have happened over summer vacation, consider it all forgiven. But during the school year, your child’s body and brain need a lot of sleep in order to make learning happen. Not only will a well-rested child be more actively engaged and ready to learn, but information is processed and memories are stored during nighttime sleep. To help your child retain all that good information they’re learning during the day, it’s important to make sure they sleep well at night.

Your mission now is to get your child back on track so that they can get to sleep at a reasonable hour as they head into their first week back at school. Here are my top tips for sleep success this fall:

How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?

First things first: what time should your child be going to bed? Many parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend sometime between 7:00pm and 8:00pm. They’re even more surprised when I suggest keeping that same time frame until their child is about 12 years old. There are two reasons why it’s important for kids to be in bed by 8:00pm.

  1. School-aged children need at minimum 10 hours of sleep each night.
    If your child needs to be up by 6:30am in order to get to school, they should be asleep before 8:30pm. Factor in the time it takes them to fall asleep after they get into bed, and they should be in bed well before this time in order to get the sleep they need.
  2. You, as a parent, need to exist child-free for a few hours a day.
    You need to be able to watch mindless TV, to eat some of the adult-only snacks without fear of being spotted, and to just do grown-up things to recharge those parenting batteries. It is vital to your relationship with your partner and with your kids.

So now that we know when to get your kids to bed, let’s move on to the significantly more difficult issue of how.

Adjust the Schedule Gradually

Hopefully you’re reading this while there’s still a couple of weeks before school starts because the easiest way to get back on track is little by little.

If your child has been going to bed around 9:00 p.m all summer, try moving up bedtime by 15 minutes every 3-4 days until you’re back to their normal, more age-appropriate, bedtime. If this requires a little deception on your part by adjusting the clocks in their bedroom, just go ahead and get sneaky. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means.

Limit Screen Time

Along with slack enforcement of bedtimes during the summer, we also tend to ease up on the rules surrounding TV, video games, or iPad time during the hours leading up to bedtime. When there’s no homework to be done, it’s much easier for the empty time to be filled in front of our devices.

The thing about screens – whether they’re phones, tablets, TVs, or computers – is that they emit a massive amount of blue light. This blue light can inhibit melatonin production, so screens before bed can actually have the unwanted effect of firing your child’s system back up when it should be powering down. Especially if your child’s school repetoire includes any distance or e-learning, try to avoid any screen time for at least 1-2 hours prior to bedtime.

(By the way, this also applies to adults, so if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try reading instead of watching TV before you turn out the lights.)

Make it DARK

While we’re on the subject of light, many families living in the northern areas of the planet may notice that it’s still not getting dark until after 8:00pm and the only thing that simulates sunlight more than a TV screen is…well, actual sunlight. If your child’s bedroom is still light when you’re putting them to bed, I suggest investing in black-out shades. No child wants to go to bed, especially when the sun is still up. From both a biological and psychological perspective, making sure it’s DARK in your child’s room will yield much easier bedtimes.

Embrace a Bedtime Routine

If you had an effective bedtime routine before your summer vacation threw everything off, then try to re-implement it as much as possible. Familiarity will definitely help your child settle back into a schedule quicker and with less resistance than trying out something new.

On the other hand, if this is your first time implementing a bedtime routine, let me 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 taking a bath or shower, brushing teeth, reading stories, and putting on pajamas all in the same order at the same time every night, it cues up their melatonin production making sleep come easier. Plus, they will be less likely to majorly protest bedtime because they ultimately know exactly what to expect. I seriously cannot recommend bedtime routines highly enough.

Use a Timer

Of course, things like baths and stories are super fun so there is a tendency for children to try and negotiate for more time in the tub or just one more story. If you find yourself constantly having to quash negotiations or play sheriff, a timer can be your best friend for keeping things on schedule and take the blame off of you. Mom may be able to be reasoned with, but a timer is pretty black and white.

Firm Up Boundaries

One final note: experiencing some leniency around bedtime during the summer can suddenly transform your child into quite a sharp lawyer. Arguments for why they should be allowed to stay up later may be frequent for least a few days and potentially the next several years. Luckily, parenting is not a democracy. It is a glorious dictatorship where “Her Highness, Mom” gets to make all the rules. Don’t give into pressure, because as I mentioned earlier, an early bedtime should be in place much of your little one’s childhood. The sooner they accept that as the norm and their summertime hours as special circumstances, the easier the whole “bedtime thing” will be for you both.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer and that your children are looking forward to starting school again. Nothing will help them (or you) begin a new school year with a better attitude and a more positive outlook than plenty of sleep.

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