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August 18: Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits

As you soak up the last few weeks of summer, I recommend taking a moment to think about your child’s sleep schedule and the adjustments you may need to make as we transition to fall.  This school year will look very different from years past, and different families will be adjusting to different types of schedules depending on whether children are returning to in person school, remote school, or a hybrid model. 

Whatever your plans may be, the second half of August is a good time to think about a healthy sleep schedule for the upcoming school year.  Many children and adolescents have shifted their sleep schedules this summer, and if you think ahead now you can plan for a gradual transition to what for many will be an earlier wake up time (and therefore an earlier bedtime) once school begins.  Begin by considering the total amount of sleep each child needs so that you can establish a regular bedtime and wake up time:

This is also a good time to establish good sleep hygiene – that is, employing evidence-based strategies to develop healthy sleep habits:

  • Establish a calm, predictable bedtime routine.  Parents of younger children often have a well-established routine – bath or shower, brush teeth, pjs, stories and/or songs, then lights out.  Bedtime routines are actually helpful for people of all ages – you can explain to tweens and teens that having a routine helps soothe and relax their bodies and prepare them for sleep.  If your tween or teen doesn’t currently follow a routine at bedtime, brainstorm together about soothing activities for before bed such as reading, listening to soft music, meditating, or doing some gentle bedtime yoga.

  • Turn off devices 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime.

  • Ideally, remove phones, tablets, and other electronic devices from bedrooms.  Preferably, children and younger adolescents should park their phones with parents 30-60 minute prior to bedtime.  If you have an older adolescent and you have decided to allow devices in the bedroom, they should be turned to silent or do-not-disturb mode 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime.

  • Provide a quiet, comfortable space for sleep. 

  • Remind your children that beds are for sleeping.  Ideally beds should not be used for activities such as reading, doing school work, or using devices.  We want the body to associate being in bed with sleeping. If your children typically like to study or use devices in bed, brainstorm with them to find other cozy, quiet places at home where they can comfortably engage in these activities.

  • Exercise every day – and, if possible, spend time outdoors every day.  If your children like to be active or rough house after dinner, be sure that dinner is early enough to allow ample time between energetic activity and transitioning to a calm bedtime routine.

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© 2020 Dr. Rachel Kramer