School night routine for kids
Perhaps you’ve been dreading sending them back to school, or maybe you've been secretly chilling your champagne in anticipation. Either way, you’ve gone through the motions. The uniform is laid out, their lunch is packed, and that new school bag they “needed” is hanging by the door. But through all the chaos of getting your children ready for school, there’s one essential thing you may have forgotten which benefits both you and them. You’ve forgotten to sort out your child’s school night routine.
Getting enough sleep can help your child perform well at school, and this is even more important at the start of a new term. A study by Soreen found that it takes them over a week to settle into school after the holidays, which affects their concentration, mood and emotional state dramatically.
There are lots of ways to set your child’s nighttime routine, but five of the easiest are:
- Start your school night routine with a good meal
- Limit homework anxiety before bed
- Regulate use of technology at night
- Set a ‘lights out’ time
- Plan for a healthy breakfast.
1. Start your school night routine with a good meal
Not only is a rounded, healthy meal good for your child’s development, picking the right foods can also positively affect their sleep. Try adding some lovely sleep-friendly foods to your children's evening meals:
- Chicken is the perfect meat option for this as it contains high levels of tryptophan - the building block of our sleep hormone melatonin.
- Equally, the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish such as mackerel is an excellent stimulant for the release of melatonin. It’s also a source of vitamin B6, which plays an essential role in the production of both serotonin and melatonin.
- As the weather turns cooler, try serving nourishing baked sweet potatoes, which contain high levels of B-vitamins and are high in digestion-aiding fibre. This makes them the perfect carbohydrate component for an evening meal as it slowly releases body-repairing energy during your sleep.
Try to keep these meals lighter if they’re closer to bedtime and make sure all technology is away during the meal. Food is a great conversation starter too - you can use this time to address their worries and concerns from the day, which can help reduce anxiety before bed.
2. Limit homework anxiety before bed
No matter what their age, the emotions you’ll see during homework time won't change much. If your child feels like there’s too much work to fit into their school night routine, their anxiety might keep them from settling down properly (or they might end up going to bed later).
There’s a science behind the stress. When your child falls asleep, their body switches from its active sympathetic nervous system to the calm parasympathetic nervous system. However, when they’re worried, the sympathetic nervous system doesn’t shut down, keeping them awake.
Combat the stress with some simple tips:
- Fuel them for homework time with a healthy snack
- Make sure they have an environment with limited distractions to get their work done.
- As the length of time required for homework increases, establish a ten-minute break between two blocks of study. (Your child's teachers should be able to isolate how long study should take them every night.) In that break, put on the kettle, talk to them and let their minds rest.
It will take some getting used to a solid homework routine, and if you have teenagers it may take some initial resistance, but once they get into the habit of it it will become incredibly comfortable for them to know that by a certain time the work is done and they can relax.
3. Regulate their use of technology at night
Make sure you set firm boundaries for technology usage at night. Scientists have found that the light (known as “short-wavelength-enriched”) from devices such as smartphones has a higher concentration of blue light than even natural light. This blue light affects our levels of melatonin more than any other wavelength making it incredibly disruptive to sleep.
Ideally technology should be switched off or placed in a different room at least an hour before bed. If a mobile device is used as an alarm clock, invest in a traditional one for your child instead.
4. Set a “lights out” time
It may sound archaic, but setting a strict bedtime on school nights is incredibly important. This will help your children to establish a healthy school night routine that lasts long into the future. Sticking to it over time will condition your child to feel sleepy at a similar time every night.
Consider encouraging a warm bath followed by teeth brushing and 30 minutes of reading. To ease your child into a routine subtly, spend this time with them and give them your undivided attention so they don’t feel like they’re being left to their own devices (which gives them ample opportunity to misbehave). Read with them or brew a hot drink such as a chamomile tea or a small mug of warm milk to help them drift off feeling loved and secure.
5. Plan for a healthy breakfast
Your school morning routine is just as important as your evening one, and it all hinges on a good breakfast. Without it, your child can become increasingly tired, restless and irritable throughout the school day. Studies found that after the school holidays 58% of children were reported to be grumpier and 22% were more likely to get into trouble with teachers due to the dramatic change in their routine. Establishing a healthy consistent breakfast will help to counteract that.
But what should you make?
- Avoid sugary food (which can sneak into things like cereal and flavoured yoghurts) as sugar provides a short-term energy boost often followed by a ‘crash’.
- If you have the time, try making scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast, porridge or chopping banana into greek yoghurt with a spoonful of honey.
- If you’re more pressed for time, as many of us are, stock your cupboards with high fibre cereal options.
Research has shown that healthy fibrous breakfasts help the production of your children's sleep hormone, melatonin, later in the evening, and the sooner they eat in the morning the better. It may seem like a chore, but more time spent in the morning prepping means more time for you in the evening when they’re soundly sleeping.