Back to school: Expert tips on how to get the kids ready for early wake-ups

Child reading

Normal sleep habits are a thing of the past during the school holidays. Days that were once filled with routine and order, are now replaced with the fun and chaos that comes with being able to enjoy some quality family time.

But, disrupted sleeping patterns can bring on mornings of nightmares when it’s time to set the alarm and go back to school.

And So To Bed, with the help of their sleep expert Dr Lindsay Browning, reveals some of the bedtime habits you can adopt, to ensure your child is ready for bed. Just in time for when the school bells ring!


Limiting screen time

Back-to-school bedtime struggles are almost never helped by having too much screen time throughout the day, and especially right before bed. Light exposure causes stimulation in the brain for even the most tired adults, so it’s not a good idea to let children loose on technology right before they sleep.

The blue light from televisions, ipads, phones and any other tech, is known to suppress melatonin levels and delay sleepiness.

Dr Lindsay Browning, psychologist, neuroscientist and sleep expert for And So To Bedcomments on the trouble with tech and sleeping patterns: “If screen time is near bedtime then this increased light exposure can make it harder to fall asleep. Our brains need to have darkness in the evening so that we can produce melatonin (our sleep hormone) to help us fall asleep easily. If we are exposed to bright light from tablets and laptop screens then this fools our brains into thinking it’s still daytime and we don’t produce as much melatonin.”


Up their exercise in the day

It’s well known that being active throughout the day can aid sleepiness at night. Even better is daily exercise that’s outdoors in the fresh air! Outdoor activities for little ones such as, playing in the park, or taking a long walk in the woods, encourages more movement and requires a higher amount of energy, releasing soothing endorphins that relax the muscles and the mind.

Dr Lindsay says, “If children are not as physically active during the school holidays, due to an increase in screen time or to avoid the sun, then this may affect their sleep. We tend to sleep better when we are more physically active, both in terms of the amount of sleep we get and also the deepness of our sleep. If children get outside to be active during the day, then they will get lots of sunlight exposure. This helps to boost their circadian rhythm, helping them to feel more awake during the day and more sleepy at night.”


Establish a routine

Establish set wake-up times and bedtimes as they approach the return to school. You should also set up low-key activities in the evening to provide a calm space and let your child know that bedtime is approaching.

Lazy mornings are of course allowed, but it’s important to stick to wake up times in the run up to going back to school to allow them to adapt. Routine is key to creating a robust circadian rhythm and an undisturbed sleeping pattern.

Dr Lindsay adds: “It’s as if children are jetlagged going to bed late and waking up late. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start moving your children’s bedtime and wake time a little earlier towards the normal term time sleeping schedule before school starts, so that it’s not a shock to the system the day before school restarts. You can do this by gently moving bedtime and wake time towards the ideal times in the days leading up to going back to school. Moving bedtimes and wake times by around 20 minutes a day is ideal.”


Bath time, all the time! 

A bedtime routine helps to build a positive association with sleep, and nothing is better at doing this than bathtime! The key benefit of baths before bed is that it changes the body temperature - this is usually a few degrees lower once they get out, much like it is before we go to sleep. This helps little ones naturally prepare for bed, without even realising it!

Making sure bathtime is a sacred routine in your household every single evening, is key to building a solid sleep cycle.


Swap TV for a book before bed

In order to make the banning of television or consoles before bed not seem like a punishment, which is likely to be met with disagreement, swap them for a bedtime story, or encourage an hour of reading. To make this a more appealing prospect, Patrick Tonks creative director at Great Bean Bags suggests creating a reading nook.

He says:Reading your child a bedtime story is a great way to prepare them for going to sleep and should be something parents incorporate into a nighttime routine. On top of the many educational benefits, bedtime stories help to create calmness, promote relaxation and provide valuable time away from screens.

“As many childrens’ bedrooms are filled with distractions including toys and game consoles, it is important you create the perfect environment for a bedtime story.”

Here are some of his top tips for creating a cosy reading nook where your little one can curl up and enjoy listening to their favourite story.

Focus on comfort: Key to designing the perfect reading nook is prioritising the comfort of your little one. Ask them where they like to sit when they complete homework or read and incorporate this into your new space. While it might be tempting to buy a standard chair, kids’ bean bags or swing chairs are two cosier alternatives which are sure to help with relaxation.

Pick a quiet place: As with all reading spaces, you should be very selective about the placement of your book nook. Although you want it to be an inviting place you should avoid having too many distractions. A major distraction for many children is noise. A quiet corner in their bedroom is therefore an ideal place but be mindful to position it away from windows which may overlook a busy road or park.

Make it a fun and uplifting area: While you’re wanting your reading nook to be a place for calmness and relaxation it’s important you design a space your child enjoys spending time in. Think about adding posters or even decorations from your child’s favourite games and TV programmes.”


Promote a sleep friendly environment

Ideally a bed should be for sleep only, otherwise our subconscious starts to associate other activities with bed, such as playing games. Try to encourage your child not to play on their bed, whether that is with toys or on their consoles. This will help the bed remain a sanctuary for sleep.

Your child’s wider room, although it will be home to their toys, should help to promote sleep too. There are a lot of things you can do to create the ideal sleeping environment such as, adjusting light levels, noise levels and generally taking away distractions if you can.

26th August 2022

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