Sound Sleep: Malia Jacobson
Sleep coach Malia Jacobson is also a health and parenting journalist who has written two books on kids and sleep. With three kids of her own — ages 6, 9 and 12 — she has some sound advice for getting back to a healthy school-year sleep schedule without turning bedtime into a battle.
1. Don’t get attached to the numbers
Pediatrician guidelines for how much sleep kids need at each age are just that — guidelines. “Each child has an amount of sleep that they need, and it can vary from published recommendations,” says Jacobson. Observe your kids and notice how much they sleep when they’re not restricted by schedules. The goal is happy, energetic and focused kids, not a fixed number of hours of sleep.
2. Know the difference between tired and sleepy
When kids go to bed at the right time, they fall asleep quickly and easily. Finding that magic window can be tricky, though, because many kids become wired when they are too tired and don’t act sleepy at all. “When kids are getting up repeatedly, it means they are not ready for sleep,” says Jacobson. Kids who fall asleep but wake up often or sleep restlessly are probably overtired.
3. Start at the beginning
Most people think about bedtime when they think about getting enough sleep. But to get your kids on a healthy sleep schedule, start at the beginning of the day. Waking up and eating breakfast sets our circadian rhythm, and no one can go to sleep when they aren’t tired yet. So, if your kids have gotten into the habit of sleeping in over the summer, start waking them closer to the time they need to get up for school, and earlier bedtimes will follow naturally.
4. Get an alarm clock
Give your kids their own alarm clock and let them set it themselves. It gives them a sense of independence and eliminates the first potential power struggle of the day. “Using an alarm clock is easier than being the bad guy,” says Jacobson. Alexa, Amazon’s smart speaker, is a great alarm clock because it has easy controls, doesn’t emit a bright light and has no visible clockface to create stress about being awake when you ought to be asleep.
5. Take baby steps
If summer schedules have drifted far from school-year requirements, shifting back on the first day of school is like forcing jet lag — hardly the way you want kids to feel for the first week of school. Instead, start as far ahead of time as you need to limit the time-shift to no more than 30 minutes each day.
6. Change the routine together
Remember that your kids are older than they were last school year, so the old routine probably needs some adjusting. Whether it’s giving them time to read on their own or letting them brush their teeth unsupervised, let their promotion to a new grade level be reflected in bedtime. “Involve your child in developing the routine,” says Jacobson. “Research shows increased compliance if kids have input.”
Don’t wait until the night before school starts, when excitement and anxiety levels are high, to try the new routine. There are plenty of other new things to deal with during the first week of school. Going to bed on time should already be routine by the time school is set to start.
8. Turn out the lights
Everyone knows you have to turn out the lights to go to sleep. But that goes for more than just the light switch on the wall. The light from TV and cell phone screens can disrupt melatonin production. Instead of watching a TV show to wind down before bed, read a book together. Also, make sure older kids take care of those “goodnight streaks” on Snapchat at least an hour before they actually go to bed if you want them to fall sleep easily.
9. Cool your head
Did you know that you can buy scalp-cooling devices as a treatment for insomnia? Cooling the body, especially the scalp, has been shown to help people sleep. You don’t have to buy a special gadget, though. An evening bath or shower, even if kids are already clean, is an effective soporific.
10. Rest easy
For most families, the hours between 6 and 9 p.m. are bedtime crunch time. If you have a lot of work to do after that, you can’t get enough sleep before the whole house needs to be up in the morning. “Try to avoid putting all the work on yourself after the kids go to bed, so you can sleep, too,” suggests Jacobson. Enlist the rest of the family to help with chores so that you can model healthy behavior — and reap the benefits of making sleep a top priority.