Bedtime, Brain Power, and Back to School

Adequate, quality sleep is important for many of the functions needed to perform well at school:

  • Impulse control
  • Emotional regulation
  • Memory acquisition, consolidation and recall
  • Focus
  • Creativity and problem solving under stress

One study found that when children’s sleep was restricted by 1 hour each night, teachers noted academic problems even though they were unaware the child’s participation if the study. Yet many kids are not getting the sleep they need to function their best and it’s especially evident in the beginning of the school year when summer schedules often mean drifting bedtimes and missed naps.

Teenagers are significantly impacted by this, when sleep needs peaks because of puberty, but social life and working may have pushed bedtime later over the summer.

But even parents of preschoolers and younger elementary schoolers find that the bedtime routines become lax over the summer. And if your child is entering his first year of full-day school and naps will be dropped, an early bedtime becomes increasing important.

Easing back into the bedtime routine before the first day of school means your child has time to sleep off any sleep debt that has accumulating during the summer late night fun.

Shift slowing- You don’t want to do so drastically, but instead ease back over a week or so by pulling bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every other night. If your child has developed a habit of sleeping in as well, you can also wake him or her up earlier respectively.

Stick to a consistent sleep schedule- Stick with a relatively consistent bedtime and don’t use the weekends to “catch up”. It’s OK to let your child sleep in an hour or so on the weekends, but a huge variation in wake up time makes it harder to fall asleep that night, leading to a shifting sleep cycle.

Bring back the bedtime routine- A soothing bedtime routine doesn’t just prepare your child emotionally and physically for bed, but also allows you to reconnect with your child. Many kids need the opportunity to share the struggles of the day in order to let go and relax into sleep.

Create a sleep sanctuary- Although fall is right around the corner, your child’s room may still be bright at bedtime. Make it easier for child to fall asleep by using black out shades to create a dark room. Keep it cool and quiet with air conditioner and white noise or a fan.

Limit electronics before bed- As tempting as it is to push homework to the end of the night, exposure to the blue light from computers and iPads can suppress the release of melatonin, the calming hormone, by 30 to 60 minutes making it that much harder for your child to fall asleep. Stick to old-fashioned reading from paper books for the hour before bed.  And for those older kids, create a cell phone curfew, keeping the cell phone out of the bedroom at night.

Use the power of light- If you find your child still struggling to pull himself out of bed, expose him to bright sunlight first thing in the morning. Exposure to light suppresses melatonin and helps set your body clock for an earlier morning wake up.

Jessica Begley

Author Jessica Begley

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