After months of being home, staying up late and sleeping in, getting children up and ready on time for school may require more effort than it did last year.
Sleep expert Alanna McGinn told CTV's Your Morning that it has been a while since children have had a consistent schedule amid the pandemic, and parents need to establish a "new bedtime routine" to get them back on track ahead of school.
"Whether your child's going back to school or they're doing remote or homeschooling it's really important to get back onto that routine," McGinn said in an interview on Monday.
At least a week before classes resume, McGinn suggests parents adjust their children's bedtime incrementally each day until their child is back to their age-appropriate school year sleep time.
"A few days before school starts, a week if you can do it, start inching bedtime earlier and earlier and wake time as well about 15 minutes each day, and hopefully what that's going to do is, come that first day of school, they've already transitioned," she explained.
McGinn said parents should also start waking their children up in the morning at the same time that they will have to get up once school resumes.
To address these changes, McGinn recommends that families hold a meeting to discuss why everyone needs to re-establish their sleep routine, making it a family mission to achieve better sleep.
"All family members' sleep has taken a hit during this time so sit together as a family have that family meeting where you can work towards your sleep goals together," McGinn said, adding that families should start by addressing technology and limiting its presence in the bedroom.
"Talking about setting boundaries on tech, setting limits on tech, perhaps moving it completely out of the bedroom so setting up a docking station within your home where you can plug in your devices overnight. [It] keeps everything organized charged and out of your bedrooms," she explained.
McGinn said changes to technology is especially important for those middle school and high school aged children who may have engaged in more screen time during COVID-19.
Besides removing technology from the bedroom, McGinn recommends all bedrooms be outfitted to support a "conducive sleep environment."
Bedrooms should only be used for sleep, according to McGinn however, she acknowledges that the pandemic may have turned those rooms into home offices, classrooms or the child's hangout area.
For those who have no choice but to use the bedroom for other purposes, McGinn suggests parents recreate a strong association between sleep and beds by removing any distractions in the room ahead of bedtime.
"If you're forced to do that, that's OK, but clear away the clutter and the distractions before you go to bed, and then incorporate some tools that perhaps can help you sleep better," McGinn said. "So things like alarm clocks or blackout blinds or meditation apps, aroma therapy, any kind of tools that can help make bedtime that much easier and bring back that bedtime a little bit better."
McGinn said she recommends using a proper alarm clock to not only eliminate technology in the bedroom, but to also let the children be in charge of their own sleep routine.
"It gives control to our tweens and teens because then they can set their own bedtime they can set their own wake time. They like having a little bit of that control so avoid the phone if possible," she said.
McGinn acknowledged that these changes may be overwhelming to some children after months of staying home and said it is important to address those feelings.
"We have to discuss those big feelings because the anxiety and the fear of a new transition can definitely start displaying at bedtime," McGinn said.
McGinn suggests parents use books, drawings or feeling cards to help guide their kids to work through those nervous feelings. After discussing those feelings, families can then introduce tools into the bedroom to further help such as guided or unguided breathing exercises or weighted blankets.
"Weighted blankets are becoming really popular right now," McGinn said. "The heavy pressure of the weighted blanket really stimulates the nervous system… which raises our serotonin levels, which can allow the body to calm down and relax a little bit more."
For those kids heading back to school next week, McGinn said now is the time to introduce these changes.
"The more time you can give to adapt to those changes the better so if you have this time to do it, now's the time especially for tweens and teens start entering that bedtime a little bit earlier, it can really help for that first day," she said.