As the summer holidays draw to a close, chances are you’re thinking ahead to the new school year: sorting uniform, checking timetables, getting new school shoes and thinking about packed lunch ideas. It’s certainly where our heads are at!

You might also be thinking about needing to adjust your kids’ sleep routine. The summer holidays can often push bedtime and waking up time later… the opposite of a school day schedule! Now is the time to start making that adjustment, which will serve them well for the start back to learning - sleep is a crucial part of kids’ ability to listen, learn, grow, and socialise at school.

Understand your child's sleep stages

There are 4 stages to a sleep cycle which lasts roughly 90 minutes:
  • STAGE 1: FALLING ASLEEP (non-REM) – this is a short stage, only lasting around 5 minutes. The brain starts to slow and the body often twitches.
  • STAGE 2: LIGHT (non-REM) – the body drops in temperature, muscles relax and breathing and heart rate slow. We spend around half the night in this stage.
  • STAGE 3: DEEP (non-REM) – heart rate and muscle tone relax even more. This is thought to be the most restorative stage of sleep during which the body recovers, repairs, grows, boosts the immune system, releases growth hormones and, crucially, when the brain detoxes and flushes out harmful toxins. We get more of this in the first half of the night.
  • STAGE 4: REM – rapid eye movement. This is the stage where most dreams happen. Brain activity picks up, the body goes into temporary paralysis of the muscles (apart from the eyes and breathing muscles). It is crucial stage for memory, learning and emotional regulation. We get more of this in the second half of the night.

Getting a good amount of sleep – particularly deep and REM – is therefore crucial for consolidating memories and solidifying the learning experiences of the previous day.  It also helps with emotional regulation and boosting the immune system, both of which are tested a lot during the average school day!

Top tips for supporting kids’ sleep

There’s lot we can do to help our children get a good night’s sleep:
  1. Establish a regular bedtime around 7pm-8pm. Each child is different but generally most children need between 10-12 hours of night time sleep. Stick to a regular bedtime of between 7pm-8pm to make sure your kids are logging enough hours.
  2. To get there, start shifting bedtime a week or two before the first day back to school. Adjust bedtime earlier by 10-15 minutes a night, every few days, until you reach the range of 7pm-8pm.
  3. Establish a consistent bedtime routine – such as a bath (especially one with Epsom salts!), brush teeth, read a story, have a cuddle...whatever works best for you. The consistency is key as it signals to your child’s brain that it is time to wind down.
  4. No screens at least an hour before bed – the blue light they emit wreaks havoc with the brains ability to wind down. This is because it suppresses the body’s production of melatonin which is the hormone needed to fall asleep. Also important is to make sure no devices are left in the bedroom overnight – it can be tempting to reach out for it, or stay up late, so remove the temptation!
  5. Keep the bedroom cool and dark – the body’s temperature drops when it moves into stage 2 of sleep, so if the bedroom is too hot, it can affect this. Around 20c seems to be around the sort of temperature for optimal sleep. Whilst lots of children like night lights (ours certainly still do) try to find calming dim lights, and a good set of curtains that don’t allow too much light in in the mornings (especially during the summer!).
  6. Sleep inducing foods – foods containing an amino acid called tryptophan help the body to produce melatonin. Try to incorporate these foods into dinner or your kids last snack of the day: nuts, seeds, kiwi, cherries, bananas, chicken, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs. Amazingly, pistachios have been found to have the highest levels of melatonin on the planet, so they are a brilliant (albeit expensive!) snack to introduce.
  7. Sleep inhibiting foods – avoid stimulating foods and drinks before bed…anything with caffeine like fizzy drinks, chocolate, as well as high sugar foods like ice-cream, biscuits, sweets - the sugar in them increases insulin which has a big impact on sleep.

We find it works well to talk about the importance of sleep as a family and agree the routine and bedtime together – it helps get children on board and make them less likely to resist it. Good luck and let us know if you have any questions or comments.

August 21, 2021