In Canada, the shortening days are upon us. In the six months between the longest and shortest days of the year, Torontonians, Vancouverites, and Edmontonians lose six and a half, eight, and nine and a half hours of sunlight, respectively.
If you have children, you’ll know that a 9:00 p.m. bedtime, more than reasonable during the summer, means putting a kid down some five hours after the winter sun. Is he getting enough sleep? Who knows? When many Canadian parents factor in the back-to-school routines of dinner, bath, and storytime (and later, after-school activities, homework, and team sports), it’s hard to imagine getting kids to bed much before nine o’clock.
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One big challenge comes from outside the family—the parental workday. Most Canadian working parents endure rigid work schedules, regardless of season. If you work outside the home, you know how difficult it can be to make it back before 6:00 p.m.
Another big challenge is the difference in children’s ages within the family. Through summer’s endless twilight, your five- and nine-year-old might have enjoyed the same 9:30 p.m. bedtime. But, come autumn and its early mornings, are each of them getting enough sleep? Answering this vital question means knowing just how different individual sleep needs can be.
So, exactly how much sleep should my kids be getting?
The answer comes to us from the quasi-Canadian latitudes of Lake Michigan. An elementary school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, posted on Facebook a chart to remind parents what time they should send schoolkids to bed, adjusted for age and customary wakeup time. The post, an unexpected Internet sensation, has been shared almost 400,000 times to date.
Here’s a replica of the very helpful information.
And here are four rules to help develop excellent sleep habits with your school-age children.
1) Set each child’s individual time
School-age children need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep each night, but there’s a lot of variability in sleep needs and patterns. Most kids have patterns that don’t change much, no matter what you do. Even among siblings, there are early birds and night owls. The point: biology is relatively inflexible; you should shape a child’s sleep schedule around it.
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2) Don’t vary wakeup times
It may seem generous to award sleep-ins on holidays and weekends, but the gesture may come back to bite you. Those extra hours of sleep will affect your child like jet-lag, making it hard for their body to feel tired at bedtime. Better to keep it consistent.
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3) Establish a pre-sleep routine
Putting your children successfully to sleep is like hitting a great golf shot: preamble matters. Creating a consistent pre-sleep routine is an important psychological signal to your child, who comes to expect what’s coming next: bathtime before storytime before bedtime. Foreknowledge comforts and relaxes the child, setting an ideal bedtime atmosphere.
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4) No screen time two hours before bed
Light from a screen (TV, computer, phone or tablet) messes with the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that influences sleep-wake cycles. Most people are sleepy and ready for bed when their melatonin levels are high. But just a half an hour in front of a screen before bed can disrupt children enough to keep them up for an extra two hours.
What do you think is the best time for kids to go to bed? As a parent, what special challenges or bedtime tricks can you share with others?
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