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Sometimes it takes longer than a week to have young children going to bed early enough again for a good start to a school day, experts say Image Credit: Shutterstock

Abu Dhabi: With less than two weeks left before the summer vacation in the UAE comes to a close at the end of the month, educators are urging parents to begin instilling a proper bedtime for school children.

A good night’s rest can be the key to a successful start to the school year, and implementing an earlier bedtime can take quite some time for most families, they said.

Alan Cocker

Alan Cocker, head of primary at the British International School Abu Dhabi, said: “Children thrive on routines and boundaries. Knowing these helps them have predictability, and helps them feel safe and secure. In addition, good sleep is essential for us all, but especially so for children: their brain and physical development is driven by good sleep, exercise and nutrition. Since getting into any routine or habit needs time and rehearsal, start practising now to get this in place for the term ahead.”

Good starting point

Melanie Moses

Melanie Moses, elementary school counsellor at GEMS American Academy – Abu Dhabi, said: “Most families tend to relax routines and bedtimes during the holiday period, and it can actually take longer than a week to have young children going to bed early enough for a good start to a school day. Older children may resist, but two weeks is certainly a good point to start setting up a bedtime routine. In fact, I would day that a good night’s sleep is of the utmost importance to children’s success at school.”

Challenging start

In fact, it is not uncommon to find young children still tired and drowsy when heading into school at the start of a new term.

“When this happens, children can be prone to tantrums, and face learning difficulties even when tasks are suited for their level. They also find it difficult to socialise, and end up in conflicts with their peers. Most worryingly, they display work-avoidant behaviour,” Moses said.

According to Cocker, inadequate sleep is an added hurdle when starting a new school year. “Many parents will probably be surprised by how much sleep their children actually need,” he said. This can range from a minimum eight hours per night for a high-schooler to up to 13 hours a night for pre-schoolers aged three years old.

Multi-step process

Setting up a proper sleep schedule is a multi-step process that involves more than just putting children to bed at a set time. Parents must also ensure that children eat a proper meal well before going to bed, switch off their screens early, and wind down for the night. They must also have had sufficient physical activity during the day.

Some parents find that it also helps to wake children a little earlier every morning, so that they go to bed earlier too. This way, it is possible to bring children to an earlier bedtime in preparation for school.

“Teachers often find that children who do not get good sleep concentrate less, are irritable and lack enthusiasm and focus. Starting the school year [right] is [very] important, so avoid adding extra barriers for your children [in terms of] lack of sleep,” Cocker urged.

“Of course, trying to change the holiday routine is not easy. As with all change, it needs planning, commitment and incentive. So, try to make it a joint venture, and build in nice things into the bedtime routine.”

Moses said older children may resist adopting a schooltime routine well before the break ends.

“Fortunately, they will need less time to adjust, and they do need less hours of sleep. But it is essential that we give young children the chance to adjust to their schooltime sleep hours,” she added.

How to adjust children’s sleep schedules

• Finish up dinner early so that it is not too close to bedtime.

• Incorporate some physical activity during the day that ends by early evening.

• Put away screens an hour or so before bed.

• Dim the lights. Low lighting and soft colours like orange and amber lighting are also thought to be beneficial. Try to avoid bright lights, and lights from high above, as these stimulate the body into being awake.

• Ensure that the home is a calm environment that is conducive to sleep and rest.

• Make children’s bedtime a joint venture, and build in nice things into the bedtime routine, like sharing books, having a bedtime talk or setting up a listening time.

• Build in praise as well as children settle into their post-holiday routines.

• Stick to the same bedtime and wake time every day to allow children to become used to the routine.