Story by: Kim Huston on June 30, 2021
During the summer, families may enjoy vacations and allow kids more unstructured time than during the school year. This can cause bedtimes to creep later and later, with children sleeping in later in the day. However, the best sleep schedule for kids to get the best rest possible is to have a consistent plan that the family can follow together.
“Sleep is very important for a child’s mental and physical development,” said Jennifer A. Spath, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Frankfort. “Deep sleep has been shown to be the most intense period of growth hormones.”
The best sleep schedule is the one that children and families develop together. If your child is a toddler or older, create a nighttime ritual with their thoughts and needs in mind. How many books would they like you to read before being tucked in? What order do they want to do the necessary steps to get ready for bed? This helps children have a sense of control and that they are getting their needs met to settle in for the night. Then, make a full list of steps for this sleep routine, so both you and the child understand. For children who aren’t able to read yet, you can use a chart with photos or drawings. Parents and child review the list together and then practice! When the family reviews and practices a sleep schedule plan, children are less likely to ask for things outside of their sleep schedule.
“Kids can be restless at bedtime, asking for another book to be read or a glass of water, simply because they want more attention from their caregiver,” Dr. Spath said. “When building a sleep routine, building in quality time with your child will help them feel more secure and settled at night.”
The key to a successful sleep schedule for children is consistency. Children and adults both benefit from having set times of going to sleep and waking up, give or take 30 minutes to an hour. It doesn’t matter if it’s the weekend, summer or you’re on vacation — keeping the same schedule helps a child’s circadian rhythm remain in sync. Parents can set bedtimes based on how much sleep a child needs at different stages. School-aged children need between nine and 11 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Parents should choose a bedtime that allows a child to feel rested and prepared for day care or school while honoring their individual sleep needs and patterns.
Preparing a child’s environment for sleep and limiting screen time before bed are important for good sleep hygiene. Turning the TV, tablets or computer off at least one to two hours before bed is crucial for preparing the body for sleep. The light from electronic devices can stimulate the brain, causing children to be wired at a time they should be winding down for the evening. Additionally, screens may inhibit the body from producing melatonin and serotonin, the hormones that aid in sleep.
Find a pediatrician
Additionally, making sure a child’s sleep space is as comfortable as it can be with as little distraction as possible is key. If you can, keep toys, electronics (including cell phones) and any distractions outside of the bedroom. By doing so, children begin to associate their bed and sleep space with sleep and less with other activities and can help that wind-down process for them.
If your family has had a relaxed summer schedule, start easing into your normal schedule about four to six weeks before the first day of school. Be consistent with the waking time to start, so that a child can ease in to the process.
“For parents, it’s important that you follow the process, too,” Dr. Spath said. “Even if it’s your day off, acting as if it was your work day and a school day, the family can begin to adjust together. That way, your child doesn’t feel alone in these changes.”