Everyday Hacks

Beat the Bedtime Blues

Reclaim the school year bedtime routine

Soon the yellow school buses will be rolling down our streets again and the long summer nights will turn back into practices, rehearsals, homework and refrains of “Your project is due when?”

One of the hardest transitions of back to school is getting back into the school-year bedtime routine. Because my child is not, nor ever has been, what you’d designate as a “good sleeper,” I have struggled with helping him get 8-plus restful hours of sleep each night. But along the way, I’ve learned a few things that have helped smooth out the bumps to get the best out of bedtime. (P.S. All of these hacks work for helping adults get a better night’s sleep, too.)

Start ahead of time

Get back on your school-year bedtime schedule at least two weeks before school starts. Establish a bedtime and wake-up routine that allows for plenty of rest — this is important if your kids are transitioning to a new school that has a different start time than they are used to (such as going from elementary to middle school). Ease back into the routine by setting bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night until you are back to the right bedtime for the school year.

Let the kids help

Get buy-in from your kids on their bedtime routine by creating together a list of what activities will happen before and at bedtime. For younger kids, drawing pictures of pre-bedtime activities of what “brushing teeth” and “story time” will look like can be helpful. My sister pasted the pictures on her fridge to provide a constant reminder to her 4- and 6-year-old of the routine. A bonus to the posted list and pictures: They also support the bedtime routine for sitters when you aren’t there.

Block out light

It’s so hard for a kid to go to bed when it’s still light outside! Try to block out as much ambient light in the bedroom as possible. Start with the windows: Use blackout curtains that cover the entire window and some space on either side so that light doesn’t seep in around the edges.

If you want a more temporary solution, make your own custom-fitted blackout window shades from black felt or a vinyl tablecloth. Cut the felt or tablecloth to match the size of the window and then use painter’s tape to attach it to cover the glass. It will peel off cleanly when you no longer need the darkness (thank you, painter’s tape!).

Softer nightlight

Whether it is to give our kids a sense of security or so we don’t stub our toes getting to the bathroom in the middle of the night, nightlights are a staple in many households. And while illuminating, they can be disruptive to sleep. Choose red, yellow or orange bulbs for the nightlight, rather than clear or white bulbs, to soften the effect the lights have on brainwaves.

Make a little noise

In late summer and early fall the birds are still chirping and lawn mowers are still mowing outside in the evenings, while we are inside trying to convince our kids it really is bedtime. Not to mention the noises parents and siblings make just moving around the house. Invest in a white noise machine to run in a corner of your children’s room. An oscillating fan set on low with the air flow aimed away from the bed (but not on anything that will rustle) is also good for drowning out those bumps in the night.

Snack time

About 45 minutes to an hour before bedtime, give your kids a healthy snack. It helps to fill up their tummies so that they aren’t waking up because they are hungry. Make sure the snack includes some protein, like a cheese stick or peanut butter, and complex carbohydrates or fiber, such as whole-grain crackers or apple slices. Keep the portions small so they don’t get over-full.

Electronics break

This one is as hard for parents as it is for kids, but put away electronic devices (such as computers, phones, tablets, etc.) an hour before bedtime. This can be especially difficult as your kids get older and are required to use computers for homework. Make the break from electronics part of the bedtime routine, using the time for showers or baths, to read a book (an actual paper one) or eat a snack.

No weekends off

If you thought turning off the electronics was the hard one, then you won’t like this one, either. Keep your sleep schedule, even on the weekends. I know, I can sense the teen eye-rolling from here. I relished when my son began sleeping in on the weekends, because then I could sleep in, too. But sleep experts agree that sticking to your normal sleep schedule as closely as possible on weekends is best because it keeps your brain more alert during the day and ready to go to sleep at bedtime. And then you don’t get the Sunday night blues because you are tired from not getting enough sleep all weekend.

Finally, be consistent. Bedtime and sleep are tricky, so if you try a new routine or method, commit to it for at least two weeks and stick to it. It’ll make the transition of back to school way less exhausting.

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Take an electronics break

This one is as hard for parents as it is for kids, but put away electronic devices (such as computers, phones, tablets, etc.) an hour before bedtime. This can be especially difficult as your kids get older and are required to use computers for homework. Make the break from electronics part of the bedtime routine, using the time for showers or baths, to read a book (an actual paper one) or eat a snack.

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