Abu Dhabi: The summer holidays tend to play havoc with children’s sleep routines, but bringing them back to normal is imperative ahead of the new school term in the UAE, which starts next week.
“A vacation mindset and summer travel are contribute to children going to bed late, but regular sleep routines are essential to ensure that children perform well at school, and even enjoy the whole school-going experience,” Dr Ahmad Abdelaal, consultant paediatrician at Burjeel Hospital, told Gulf News.
“If you haven’t readjusted your children’s bedtime two weeks ahead of the start of the term, you should aim to do it at least now, given that school resumes at the beginning of September across the UAE,” he added.
This year, summer holidays kicked off on July 4, and included the Eid Al Adha holiday weekend in August. Like every year, many families opted to travel during the 58-day holiday.
This tends to induce jet lag and fatigue in children, and since many families are returning now, the first few days of the school term will probably be an uphill battle for parents, said Dr Prabhakar Patil, specialist paediatrician at Medcare Women and Children Hospital.
What parents can do
“One thing parents can do is try to wake children earlier in the mornings so that they get used to it when schools reopen. This also helps tire children out by bedtime, especially if parents are careful to prevent afternoon naps,” Dr Patil said.
Ideally, this means that dinner should be done by 7.30pm and parents must initiate a calming bedtime routine by 8pm or so, especially for smaller children.
“Pre-schoolers and children upto five years of age still need 11-13 hours of sleep a night, especially as many tend not to nap during the day. So parents should start setting up an environment conducive to sleep in the children’s bedroom — adjusting temperature, dimming lights and ensuring silence,” Dr Abdelaal recommended.
It is also important to prevent screen time from at least an hour before bedtime, including for older children.
“Children suffer if they do not get enough sleep at night. Their concentration and alertness is low, and they tend to doze off in class. Or, they come home and nap, and their bedtime gets pushed back, and it’s a vicious cycle. This is why now is the best time to try and establish healthy sleep routines,” the doctor said.
How to set a proper bedtime routine
- Try to gradually adjust sleep and wake schedules at least a week before the start of school. This will help re-set children’s biological clocks.
- Maintain a regular bedtime even on weekends, as much as is possible. This helps children get enough sleep, and regulated the circadian rhythms that contribute to overall health.
- Establish a relaxing, age-appropriate bedtime routine that is the same every night so that children can associate the steps with sleep. This also helps them wind down.
- Create a sleep environment that is cool, quiet, dimly lit and comfortable.
- Say no to any screen time in the hour before bedtime.
- Limit caffeine intake after lunch for older children.
- Give children a balanced dinner and encourage them to exercise, as both promote good sleep.