Establishing Healthy Back-To-School Sleep Habits

back to school sleep health

Teaching your child to develop healthy habits during the day and before bedtime can help promote consistent and uninterrupted sleep at night. As the school year begins and summer comes to an end, many of the bedtime routines that existed during the previous school year may need to be reintroduced. This might include eliminating screen time before bed, establishing the same sleep and wake times each day, and incorporating “wind down time” into your child’s bedtime routine. Here are a few behavioral and lifestyle adjustments that can help promote quality sleep for children:

Limit Screen Time Before Bed: A plethora of research suggests that screen time before bed can reduce sleep quality, disrupt melatonin production, interfere with our circadian rhythm, and leave us feeling tired and less attentive the next morning. It is recommended that children (and adults!) turn off the TV, and avoid using laptops, tablets, and smartphones at least one hour before bedtime. From a behavioral standpoint, screen time and other stimulating activities before bed can act as a competing response that may interfere with cues in our environment for sleep onset. 

Screen Time Alternatives: An hour or so before bedtime, introduce your child to alternative activities that promote relaxation and prepare them for a good night’s sleep. While this will look different for each child, some recommendations include bubble baths, reading a book, going for a “pajama walk,” yoga time as a family, working on a puzzle, rocking or swinging, or listening to relaxing music. These activities not only help your child wind down before bedtime, but it gives you an opportunity to spend some quality time with your child and engage in these activities together. 

Use a Visual Schedule: For families with children on the autism spectrum, visual supports – such as picture schedules or checklists –  can be helpful tools when establishing a new bedtime routine. Visual supports can help to break down bigger tasks into smaller parts, enhance predictability, lay out expectations around bedtime, and encourage independence. Things to put on a visual schedule might include putting on pajamas, placing dirty clothes in the hamper, brushing teeth, using the bathroom, washing hands, getting a cup of water, selecting a wind-down activity, saying “good-night” to family members, and getting into bed. 

Environmental Variables: It’s important for children to have a sleep environment that is consistent, comfortable, quiet, and safe. Be mindful of other noises in the home after putting your child to bed, as these sounds could affect their onset of sleep. If you live on a busy street or have other family members who go to bed later, consider “white noise” or a background sound that is quiet and consistent throughout the night – such as a fan or humidifier. Lastly, consider the temperature in the room and ensure that the room is dark with minimal outside light coming in through the windows. 

Sensitivities to Fabrics and Textures: For families with children on the autism spectrum, it’s especially important to be aware of sensitivities to certain textures and fabrics. Check to make sure their pajamas, bedding, and pillowcases are preferred. It might even be helpful to take a trip to Target or IKEA and feel the various bedding textures and materials that are available and let them pick out the ones they like the best. 

As our kids transition back to the classroom, it’s important to also make the transition back to a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine. Finding alternatives to screen time before bed, using visual aids to teach and reinforce new bedtime routines, and looking at variables within the sleep environment that may be affecting their sleep are just a few of the many ways we can help our kids practice sleep hygiene this fall. For more back to school transition tips, check out our blog here!

Written by Eileen O’Connor, M.S., BCBA

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