How to Get Your Kids Back on Their Sleep Schedule

Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

My kids sleep schedule isn't just on a to-do list.

It's a necessity.

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Sleep is soooo crazy important for us busy Mamas, of course, but did you know how important it is to those little precious monsters you birthed? But seriously--So. Important.

When kids sleep, it helps them grow, it lets their brains rest and reset, and it promotes the development that's in overdrive for those little monkeys. That's why a kids sleep schedule is just that much more important.

But when we have things like daylight savings shifts and seasonal shifts and all the craziness that's come with COVID and quarantines, it's really easy for those sleep schedules to go awry.

So what's the best way to just bite the bullet and get your kids' sleep schedule back on track?

Well, since every kid is different, we've tried a few different tactics. But here are the basics:

The: A Few Minutes at a Time Strategy

My very first recommendation is to move bedtimes a few minutes at a time every night until you get to the right place. Kids can usually handle those little time changes no problem.

And in case they're not moving with you at that rate, move it a few minutes back or forward, keep that time for a couple of days, then move again until you get to the correct bedtime.

The: Supplement Strategy

We've had luck using the kid-doses of melatonin when needed (and don't do this just because I'm suggesting it--talk to your doc before giving your kid any supplements or meds.) It gives just a teeny amount of sleepy to get kids ready for bed if their internal clocks still aren't adjusting.

The smallest dose I've found is 3mg, and you can actually find it in the quick-dissolve tablets. (But obviously discuss this with your doctor before giving your kids any supplements.)

The Bedtime Routine Strategy

A good kids sleep schedule usually is preceded by a bedtime routine. You probably started this when your kids were babies, and many people just continue these even when kids are older.

It's a really good idea to keep doing it, though. Because even as adults we need a wind-down routine to get more calmed and settled before bed. Keep at the routine, but add in a few extra things if it feels like the change in time is still messing with them.

The: Get Rid of the Blue Lights Strategy

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This is really recommended whether or not you're trying to readjust your kid's sleep schedule. Blue lights in screens have been shown to interfere with the natural circadian rhythm, thereby altering sleep. For the worse, that is.

The blue lights are in tablets, phones, computer monitors, and even tv screens.

So make sure you're cutting off electronics at dinnertime to help with that. If you have a kid that's got to do homework after dinner regularly, maybe think about investing in glasses that block blue lights or an app called f.lux that turns the screen blue lights off.

Plan for Sleep Cycles

Something I hadn't considered regarding bedtimes came about when I started studying my own sleep habits.

About two years ago I noticed that I was waking up at crazy hours and couldn't go back to sleep. I also had trouble falling asleep. One tool I used was my Fitbit and the app to track my sleep. (There are many fitness trackers that will do this, as well as apps and the Apple watch now.)

Just keep in mind that these tools "aren't terribly accurate", according to sleep expert Sheryl Guloy of Somnolence +. But they can at least give you a good starting point, as well as become more aware that there is a problem.

I also did some digging on sleep cycles, because there are a few apps that claim they can wake you at optimal times before your alarm goes off so you don't feel groggy.

What I found is that:

  • Each full sleep cycle is about an hour and a half
  • The average person needs 5-6 sleep cycles a night to be fully rested and at their best.
  • The older a child gets, the fewer sleep cycles they may need.

My kids were always good sleepers as babies and would actually do 12-hour nights. The older they got, the shorter the time in bed. Our 9-year-old (who always slept longer than the younger two) can still go 12 hours. But the 8 and 4-year-old do maybe 9-10 max. The point is that all kids are different, just like all of us adults are different.

What I have found helpful is using a sleep calculator to get a much better idea of where to start. This way you can factor in the time it takes to go to sleep plus times for sleep cycles to find the best bedtime for your kid. Go HERE to check one out.

Keep a log of bedtimes and how your kid feels in the morning with that amount of sleep.

With that information you can start tweaking bedtimes and wake times, as well as find the specific things that help your child get to sleep and stay asleep.

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My mission is to always find the magic middle where healthy + efficient merge. As a nutrition specialist and certified health coach with a master of science in nutrition, I firmly believe in nourishing the body, mind, and spirit with proper food, rest, movement, and stress management. My mission is to teach people how those CORE 4 things work together, how to do them on the daily, then put them on autopilot.

Montgomery, TX
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