5 tips to ease your children into a sleep routine for the school year

A tired child may not be able to perform academically well. Establish good sleeping habits early.
A tired child may not be able to perform academically well. Establish good sleeping habits early.

During the December holidays you might have become more relaxed about your children’s routines. But according to experts, it's a good idea to get them back into their normal habits before school starts.

And with the new year in full swing, you might want to consider the following tips:

Research has established time and again that a lack of proper sleep results in poorer academic performance in children, as a lack of sleep affects the brain, cognitive function and impulse control. There is also a higher risk of behavioural problems among children and teenagers who do not get adequate sleep.

“Sleep is as important for children as physical exercise and a healthy diet. Children who get less than eight hours of sleep at night are likely to get lower grades than their well-rested classmates. When children are tired, their cognitive abilities – memory, creativity and decision-making – are affected. When pressured to focus on school subjects, they may appear moody, cranky or just frustrated due to lack of concentration,” says Dr Kent Amstutz, a developmental-behavioural paediatrician.

And too much time spent using devices such as smartphones and screens can also impair sleep. Studies have shown that the blue light emitted by these devices can affect our circadian rhythm.

So, while you might all still have that holiday feeling, it’s crucial that you make an effort to re-establsh a routine for the new school year: 

1. Create a calm, comfortable sleep area

Declare bedrooms a no homework zone. Limit the use of devices such as laptops and smartphones in the bedroom. Ensure that the room is dark, the bed is comfortable and that the temperature is comfortable. Every child is different, though – establish what your child needs in order to fall asleep easily.

Rested girl in her bedroom

2. Limit screen time before bed

You shouldn’t only ban electronic devices from the bedroom, but children should start winding down and stop interacting with screens at least an hour before bedtime. Encourage them to read or listen to soothing music instead.

Girl staring at tv screen

3. Encourage afternoon exercise

Physical activity during the afternoon can promote better sleep at night. Taking part in school sports might help your children sleep better, but start encouraging exercise and play time during the holidays – take a walk, go swimming or play in the garden for a few hours instead of watching TV.

Father and son playing ball

4. Limit caffeine and sugar in the evening

Children may enjoy more treats during the holidays, but gently ease them into healthier habits as the school year approaches. Caffeine and sugar can impair sleep. Avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and carbonated drinks during the afternoon and at night, and offer healthier dessert options instead of sugar-laden ice creams and cakes.

Girl eating sugary donut

5. Create a consistent routine

Start thinking about a consistent routine for the afternoons and evenings, and stick to it. When the school year kicks off and homework piles up, the shock and stress will not be too great. Make a rule that homework and tasks should be completed well before bedtime and that school bags and sport kits are packed and ready. This will eliminate the chaos right before bedtime when your child remembers that big assignment that needs to be handed in first thing the next morning.

Are they getting enough sleep?

You might have set the routines, but are your children getting quality sleep? Gauge their behaviour. If you spot any of the following symptoms, it might be a sign that they are not getting adequate sleep:

  • Irritability and moodiness
  • A lack of concentration, incomplete homework, missed assignments
  • A lack of energy during the day
  • Looking pale and exhausted
  • Clumsy movements like tripping over objects
  • High energy levels at night and difficulty winding down

Image credit: iStock 

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