Bedtime Routines: Getting on Schedule for Back to School

Bedtime routines may not be popular among little ones, but they pay off, for the brain and body. A recent study showed that 7-year-olds with consistent bedtimes tested better in reading, math and spatial comprehension, versus kids with sudden changes in bedtimes. If your kid has been spending summer going to bed and waking up late, you'd better start easing him back to a school-appropriate sleep schedule. The earlier you start, the easier it is. Learn how!

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By Roberta Munoz

Is your kid bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to go back to school? Or does he roll out of bed cranky and collapsing?

It had to happen—the lazy days and late nights of summer have turned into early wake-up times and a rush to get ready. Sudden changes in sleep patterns are hard on young bodies—and young brains too.

A study by University College London found that regular bedtimes in early childhood meant better performance on tests by 7-year-olds. Erratic bedtimes were linked to lower scores in reading, math and spatial comprehension.

“Children need what they’ve learned the previous day to be translated into neural connections in the brain—to be hard-wired, in other words,” says Amanda Sacker, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors. How can you ditch the morning drama? Read on.

Start Early

Establish school-ready sleep and wake times as early as possible before the first day of class to avoid a sudden change. “Children generally thrive more when their world is more predictable—routines are one part of that experience,” Sacker says. If it sounds like a tall task, gradually work up to it by waking up your kid five minutes earlier each day.

Wind Down

Whether it’s a school night, a weekend or the middle of vacation season, set a predictable period of quiet time before bed. Your kid will begin to recognize downtime activities and get sleepy on cue. Brushing teeth, turning out the lights, reading a story and setting out clothes for the following day can all get your little one in the sleeping mood.

Don't Overschedule

During the summer, don't pack your child’s day with activities to imitate school routines. Long and lazy days are one of the gifts of summer, and doing nothing but dreaming in the sun is great for creativity and imagination. Let your little one loose, but rein him in at a regular time so he can recharge for the next day’s fun.

Make Bedtime Positive

Avoid talking about early or regular bedtimes as a punishment or a chore. Don’t threaten to send your kid to bed early for misbehaving. Make bedtime a positive thing, always. Spend time with him before bed, reading a story or talking. If your child starts associating late bedtimes with rewards, he’ll be more likely to resist returning to a more school-appropriate routine.

Involve the Whole Family

Set a good example in advance by having the whole gang go to bed early well in advance of school. It can be hard for you to get to sleep at a decent hour along with your child, but if he feels like it’s a family affair, he’s much more likely to comply and slide back into a routine.

Vacation doesn’t have to be a free-for-all as far as bedtime goes. An unstructured day can ease into a reliable end. Avoid wild fluctuations in sleep routines whenever possible to keep kids on an even keel when school finally starts.

Kids have mastered the art of the bedtime excuse. Guess what? Excuses are more fun to read about than to actually hear at 11:30 every night, so check out this fun article on 10 excuses kids give to avoid going to sleep.

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