Many parents struggle with getting their children to go to sleep and stay asleep in the evenings. Particularly when school is on the agenda for the following day. Factor in regular breaks in routine, throughout the school calendar year, and you begin to see why getting your children into a solid sleeping schedule can be difficult. Especially with half terms and the extended 6-weeks holidays breaking up usual behavioural patterns.
Why anxiety about school can trigger sleeplessness in children
While some children will accept that school is a fact of life and ease into a sleep routine fairly easily. For others, the transition into going to bed and getting up at set times is much harder to make. Even more so if the usual bedtime rules and routines have been allowed to slip over weekends and school holidays. In which case it's likely you'll need to spend some time retraining your child to go to bed, and wake up, at specific times again.
But it's not just an aversion to mornings that make some children dislike going to school. The very idea of school itself can trigger feelings of anxiety. Particularly if your child is starting a new school, entering an exam year, or has a history of school related difficulties. Not to mention anxiety in children is commonly triggered by sudden changes in routine. Such as having to adhere to a set schedule for bedtimes and morning alarm calls.
Help your child transition back to school
Fortunately, as a parent there are a number of things you can do in the lead- up to term time to help your child transition back to school smoothly. Including relieving any growing fears or anxieties your child might be feeling about the school holiday ending. As well as getting them into a sleep cycle in plenty of time before the new term starts.
1. Ensure your child wakes at the right time in his/her sleep cycle One of the hardest things about the first morning back to school is that alarm bell cutting through your sleep and waking you up. As we know sleep is a restorative process, and in school age children especially it's vital to get at least 10-13 hours of good quality sleep every night.
In a good night you'll go through at least 5-6 sleep cycles. With each cycle lasting approximately 90 minutes. During this time your body will transition from light sleep to REM, the stage in which you dream. Ideally you want to wake up during the light sleeping stage, when you're naturally drifting in and out of wakefulness. Minimising any feelings of grogginess.
The best way to get back into a good pattern of sleep behaviour is through sleep training. Starting from identifying at what time your child needs to wake up in order to arrive and school on time, and working backwards from there to ensure he or she is getting the optimum hours sleep required to feel energised and awake in the mornings. Making sure to keep this routine in place over the weekend too.
Sleep training allows you to gradually alter your child's bedtime and morning alarm call. Until you arrive at the schedule that best works for your individual child. Thereby eliminating any big shocks in the morning, and ensuring your child gets the good quality 10-13 hours they need to be alert and focussed during lessons.
2. Establish a pre-bedtime routine
It's widely acknowledged that sleep deprivation is on the rise. In part because of the lifestyle habits we've adopted in modern day Britain. Electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and televisions all emit light, which can have a confusing effect on our brain. Disrupting our ability to get to sleep at night. Particularly when these devices are used too close to bedtime.
If your child struggles to get to sleep in the evenings, you may need to limit the amount of time he or she spends using stimulating electronic equipment before bed. Even watching TV with the lights off is enough to keep your brain active and engaged - the opposite of what you need to unwind and relax.
At least an hour before bedtime make sure your children stop using their mobile phone, computers, TV and any other electronic devices. This will give their brain time to calm down before its time to go sleep. Running your children a warm bath in the evening is another great way to get them to feel sleepy before bed too. A soak in the tub for at least 20 minutes will help lower the heart rate, and induce a natural feeling of relaxation.
Try to avoid using any bright lights during this time, and once they're out of the bath get them dressed in clean PJs. Ideally in a natural material such as cotton, which helps skin to breathe and regulates body temperature overnight. By this stage your children should be feeling sleepy, so this is a good time to put them to bed and say goodnight. Ensuring that no electronic devices have managed to sneak their way into the room before you leave.
3. Address any school anxieties head-on
Since school isn't typically a favourite place for most children it's only natural the idea of attending might trigger some feelings of anxiety. These fears are usually heightened in students who are beginning a new school following relocation or a move from primary into secondary education. The fear of the 'unknown' and change in what's familiar being common catalysts for anxiety in this situation.
It's important to address any nerves your child is expressing about attending school, and not expect these to naturally melt away on their own. Some children may not naturally discuss their feelings, and so may take a little coaxing before they open up. If you're unsure whether your child is feeling anxiety, look for changes in their usual behaviour. Difficulty sleeping is one of the most common indicators of anxiety in children. But other tell-tale signs include moody outbursts, sullenness or a loss of appetite.
Talking to your child about their feelings can help to reassure them, as can simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises. Children of all ages also find routine reassuring. So establishing one, in the ways we've described above, can also help to keep anxiety at bay.