With less than a week to go until the start of a new school year, parents are preparing themselves for the inevitable back-to-school rush. But amid the dash for backpacks, books and last-minute haircuts, children's sleep routines must also be high on the agenda if parents want to start kids off on the right foot.
UniSA researcher and sleep expert Dr Alex Agostini says a good sleep routine is important for children's emotional, physical and mental health, especially post the school holidays.
There are lots of positives that come with the school holidays – there are fewer time pressures, kids get to have a well-earned break from school and families spend more time together – but hand-in-hand with the holidays also comes irregular sleep, which can have an impact children's behaviours and abilities to operate well at school."
Dr Alex Agostini, UniSA researcher and sleep expert
Agostini continued, "Staying up late, watching TV and playing on computers, ipads or phones, are all common holiday activities, but as we enter a new school term, it's time to initiate better sleep routines.
"A good night's sleep is important for kids. Research shows that good sleep helps them regulate their emotions and concentrate – no one wants a cranky kid or an after school tantrum. Sleep also helps to regulate the hormones that initiate hunger – which helps children eat at the right time and function better throughout the day."
Dr Agostini says it's best to ease your child back into the school schedule by changing their bedtimes and sleep routines over a week or so before school so that their body can gradually adjust. Yet, with five nights before school returns, you can still make changes.
"By moving your child's bedtime five or ten minutes earlier each night, you can help them get used to a new routine, without the shock factor that can come from adjusting bedtime just the night before," Dr Agostini says.
"It's also helpful to start waking kids slightly earlier each day as this will help them feel tired enough to go to sleep on time.
"When kids sleep-in they don't have enough drive for sleep at night, and generally struggle to fall asleep, regardless of their bedtime.
"A good sleep routine – doing the same thing every night before bed – helps the body learn when it's time to go to sleep. For school-aged kids, this could include a warm bath or shower, followed by a book in bed, but it can be different for each child.
"Getting kids involved in designing their own pre-sleep wind-down routines will help them feel more in charge and should help improve adherence to the new night-time schedules.
"Having the whole family put screens away or off, before bed is a great way to encourage healthy bedtime behaviours for everyone. Not only is the light from these devices not conducive to sleep, but they also don't have a set 'end time', which means it's easy to keep playing games or keep messaging friends.
"Of course, changing behaviours can be hard. Persistence is key, and parents must remember that by establishing positive sleep routines, they're setting their kids up for success."