Expert advice from Tracy Spackman
With school back in session, it might be time to take a good look at your child’s sleep schedule and bed time routine.
Not only can sleep affect a child’s overall mood and behavior, but it can significantly impact their success in school, too.
Tracy Spackman—Phoenix mom of five, certified Gentle Sleep Coach, and owner of Get Quiet Nights—has some tips on how to set your school-aged child up for a good night of rest and a great day at school.
Recommended Daily Sleep for Kids
“According to SleepFoundation.org the amount of sleep needed really varies by age,” said Spackman. “This is a good chart to get a starting place when trying to figure this out for your child.”
- 4 – 12 months: 12 – 16 hours (including naps)
- 1 – 2 years: 11 – 14 hours (including naps)
- 3 – 5 years: 10 – 13 hours (including naps)
- 6 – 12 years: 9 – 12 hours
- 13 – 18 years: 8 – 10 hours
- 18+ years: 7 or more hours
While bedtime can vary depending on what time the child needs to wake up and be at school, generally speaking, Spackman recommends the following bedtime guidelines:
- Elementary Age: 7 – 8 p.m. bedtime; needs 9-12 hours of sleep
- Middle School Age: 9 – 10 p.m. bedtime; needs 8-10 hours of sleep
- High School: 10 – 11 p.m. bedtime; needs 8-10 hours of sleep
Tips for Setting Up a Successful School-Night Bedtime Routine (for younger children)
- Have a conversion with your child about all the elements that go into preparing for bedtime. Brainstorm, make a plan, and set up the expectation.
- Start the routine early enough so that it doesn’t feel rushed.
- Do any necessary cleaning up (bath, hair, teeth).
- Take your child to bed, versus sending them. This is valuable time together.
- Read to your child a bedtime chapter or bedtime story which can have many benefits educationally and emotionally.
Limit Blue Light Exposure and Screens
“The blue in the light spectrum inhibits the production of melatonin in our bodies,” said Spackman. “We need melatonin to sleep so the blue light in screens can make falling asleep harder for many people.”
Here are some ways Spackman says you can try to enforce screen rest and help a child get ready to fall asleep:
- Limit the last hour of the day before bedtime to go without screens.
- Keep screens out of bedrooms to reduce night time exposure to blue light.
- Swap the evening tech time for parent/child time. This will increase family attachment, improve relationships, and remove excess blue light.
Create an Ideal Sleep Environment
Ensuring your child’s room is set up as an optimal sleep environment is a big key to helping them fall asleep. Here are some things Spackman suggests:
- Use a low pitch, constant white noise sound (or pink noise or brown noise) or fan.
- Cover up any power indicator lights with some thick tape or light blocking stickers to create a dark room.
- Use a night light in red or yellow (to remove the blue light) that is 4 watts or less for a child who might be afraid of the dark.
What To Do If Bedtime Interferes With Scheduled Activities
“One of the problems for families and rest is scheduling,” said Spackman. “Older siblings may have later activities that make it hard for parents to get younger children in bed in time to meet their sleep needs.”
Here’s what you can do to help combat this:
- Decide what’s more valuable to your family. Making a decision to avoid scheduled activities past a specific time (dictated by the needs of the younger siblings) may seem like you are making your older child miss out. But family oriented activities at home may be just as valuable if not more valuable to you in the long run when everyone is getting good sleep.
- Make friends with the parents of the other kids in the activities. See if you can make arrangements to carpool with another family so you can reduce the number of nights in a month the younger siblings need to be kept up late.
- Remember that kids can be resilient. It doesn’t need to be perfect all the time. Everyone has nights where they don’t get enough sleep. Just do the best you can and remember that your kids can be resilient when things don’t always go exactly according to schedule.
Tips for a Child Who Struggles to Wake Up Early
- Evaluate their bedtime. If you have a child who is cranky and doesn’t do well getting up in the morning, Spackman says it’s first a good idea to make sure they’re going to bed at the right time. “Do you have a happy and rested child until bedtime? Or do you have a frustrated and unhappy child in the afternoon or evening? Do you see a big burst of energy in the evening? Sometimes the overtired hormones of Cortisol and adrenaline look energetically silly (I call that a cortisol giggler) or it could look angry and frustrated.”
- Plan something for your child to look forward to in the morning. If bedtime isn’t the issue, Spackman advises to plan something in the morning your child can look forward to and talk about it the night before. This could be a delicious breakfast, a game that you play before school, or special time with you.
“Night time is a separation, and children already have a lot of separation when they start school, so making plans for the morning as part of the bedtime routine can bridge the separation of overnight, giving the child a valuable connection to look forward to and be worth getting out of bed for.”
While it might take some work up front, ensuring your child is well rested has plenty of benefits.
“The right amount of sleep is so important for developing bodies and brains, and when a child can get enough sleep, the parents have a better chance of getting enough sleep. Win-Win,” said Spackman.
You can find blog posts and opportunities to speak with Tracy Spackman at getquietnights.com