Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Alanna McGinn Headshot

Back-To-School Sleep Tips: From Kindergarten To High School

Posted: Updated:
Jupiterimages via Getty Images

September is the new January and as much as we are ready to throw routine out the window in June, come September most parents are desperate to get back to the consistency of every day life. One step to starting the new school year off right is making sure that our kids, no matter what age, are getting the sleep they need to succeed at school.

A well-rested child will display better cognitive abilities, a more pleasant mood and temperament, and a stronger immune system so it's important that your child start off their new school year well rested and prepared.

Kindergarten to Grade 5 - Start Talking about Healthy Sleep

This is the age where you want to start opening the communication about sleep. Ask them what sleep is and why they need to sleep? How does sleep make them feel and how does sleep make mom and dad feel? Starting this conversation at a young age will help build a healthy relationship between your child and sleep.

Provide your child with a sleep environment that is conducive to sleep.

Bring Back Bedtime

This is a super important step, especially for our little ones. Entering kindergarten and elementary school is a big transition for most and making sure that bedtime is nice and early, and followed by a consistent and calming bedtime routine will allow their bodies to get the sleep it needs and adjust to the new routine of life. Bedtime is also the perfect time to build attachment and open communication about what's going on in your child's life.

You may also want to:

• Watch what your child eats before bedtime and avoid caffeine. A banana has been known to help release serotonin, which can be sleep-inducing.
• Provide your child with a sleep environment that is conducive to sleep. Installing blackout blinds and creating a nice and dark environment is the best way to help signal to your child's brain that it's time to release that sleep inducing hormone -- melatonin.

Learn To De-Stress For Sleep

It's never too early to teach your child to combat childhood anxieties and fears before bedtime with communication and relaxation techniques. It's also important to take the pressure of sleep off of both of you. It's a stressful cycle that can begin. Your child will stress before bedtime because he knows he's going to have a hard time falling asleep and then you and he may have conflict about it, stressing you both out where no one is falling asleep any time soon. They often feel the pressure when we are just telling them to go to bed. Explain to him why he needs to sleep and then incorporate different techniques that can help him get there.

• Swap the bedtime stories for colouring. With adult colouring now on the rise, the calming benefits of this activity are being proven. Colouring with your child is not only relaxing for both of you but it also provides the parent a great opportunity to ask those open-ended questions to find out more about their child's day and what may be causing some of their anxieties.
• Have your child create a shared journal with you. In this journal your child is able to write down any worries or concerns that they want you to know about and there is an understanding that you will read it. Sometimes it's difficult for our children to admit their fears out loud but they want to share them with us. This shared journal can act as that bridge for communication between the two of you.
• While I encourage you to stay away from brightly lit tech, stories on tape work really well for this age group and your child may enjoy listening to one before he goes to sleep.
• Teaching children how to relax before bedtime through mindfulness, yoga, and breathing techniques can help relax their body and quiet their minds making it easier for your child to fall asleep. Repeat positive sleep mantras like "I can fall asleep on my own," "I'm a great sleeper," "Sleep is good for me." Repeat these mantras at bedtime and even throughout the day with your child to change the way they think about bedtime from negative to positive.
• Sit down for a family meeting where you can map out bedtime routine through pictures or verbally so that your child is clear on the expectations at bedtime and throughout the night.

Grade 6 to 12 - Learning to Cope With Biological and Social Changes Affecting Sleep

It's common for this age group to start struggling with sleep. Often parents find their children at this age take longer to get to bed. Perhaps it's taking them longer to fall asleep or suddenly they are showing bouts of anxiety and fear about going to bed alone. At this age adequate sleep is necessary as children are growing, becoming increasingly active in school and after-school activities, and need well rested minds and bodies to strengthen their cognitive ability, memory, alertness, and overall mood and behaviour for school and learning. Within my practice I see children at this age suddenly start to sleep less even though their bodies still need the same amount of sleep -- 10-11 hours of sleep per night.

The reasons for childhood insomnia can vary:

Biological Changes:

With the average age of puberty for girls being between 10 and 12 years of age and boys 12-16 years of age, it's during this age group that there is a shift in their natural sleep rhythms -- their circadian rhythms. Melatonin -- our sleep hormone -- is secreted later at night. This hormone is what signals to the body that it is time to go to sleep. While this may not happen as early as eight years of age, when the shift does take place it can be biologically impossible for our tweens and teens to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime even if we want them to.

Unpredictable Routine With Poor Sleep Environment

This is the age where activities, sports, and homework increase. Bedtimes begin to be pushed out too late, and overscheduling leaves children overtired and exhausted making it more difficult for them to fall asleep. Also technology is finding it's way into children's bedrooms and sleep is being traded for staying up-to-date socially and catching up on their favourite TV show or YouTube channel. Parents need to become their childs sleep ambassador and make sure that rules are created about technology. All tech should be kept out of bedrooms. Families can create a family docking station within their home where everyone can plug in overnight and keep their sleep environment set up for sleep only.

Danger Of Drowsy Driving

For our older children it's important that the discussion about safe driving and avoidance of drowsy driving happens. Start the conversation with what they already know about healthy sleep, the importance of proper sleep hygiene, and the impact that sleep deprivation has on their ability to drive safely. The following references can help you with this discussion:

Sleep Education for School - The American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Follow Alanna McGinn at Good Night Sleep Site, Facebook, and Instagram for more family sleep tips.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook


Sleeping Myths You Should Never Believe
Share this
Current Slide