Parenting Through the Storm Blog

Parenting information and support for parents who have a child who is struggling. The official blog for Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between by Ann Douglas (HarperCollins Canada, January 2015 + Guilford Press, September 2016), a guide to parenting a child with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge.

A Shockingly Sensible Guide to Back-to-School Sleep

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A lot of the sleep advice that we hear at this time of year makes perfect sense, provided that you’re raising a robot.  

You’ve no doubt come across some of these robot-friendly back-to-school sleep strategies, like schedules that recommend that we ease our children’s bedtimes back 15 minutes at a time. 

All that sounds great in theory—provided that you’re prepared to make sleep the sole focus of those precious final weeks of summer and that you somehow ended up with a super-compliant kid….

Here’s what I’m proposing as a back-to-school sleep solution: finding some sensible middle ground in between the two extremes that tend to be paraded around at this time of year: 

  1. doing nothing (and ending up with a child who will morph into a sleep-deprived emotional yo-yo by the end of the first week of school) or 
  2. adhering to some rigid sleep transition schedule that would do any self-respecting drill sergeant proud. 

What I’m talking about is simply connecting the dots between where our kids are right now when it comes to sleep schedules and where we’d like them to be in two weeks time when that first morning of school rolls around—and then to look for opportunities to gently nudge their sleep schedules in that general direction (as opposed to taking a boot camp-like approach to the whole issue of sleep).

Of course, there are all kinds of practical things we can do to help with the nudging process. We can plan activities that encourage out kids to get our kids out of bed (and out of doors) first thing in the morning so that they can benefit from being exposed to bright morning light (one of the most powerful strategies for resetting your body’s sleep-wake cycle). And we can encourage our kids to unplug from their electronic devices during the hour or two before they head off to bed (to allow their brains to start to feel sleepy)—and to keep those devices at bay during the night (to avoid being roused out of sleep in the middle of the night by the beep of a text message alert). 

But here’s the thing: Sleep is one of those parenting battles you just can’t win. You can lead a child to bed but you can’t make him sleep, in other words. So this is definitely one of those situations where it makes sense to get your child involved in coming up with sleep solutions that will work for him.

It’s definitely worth having these discussions. We have a tendency to treat sleep like a luxury—something to indulge in when we have time. We need to recognize and treat it for what it is—the invisible glue that holds everything else in our lives together. That’s an important message to pass along to our kids in an age of round-the-clock everything. They need to be given permission to hit the pause button on life so that their bodies and brains can regenerate and refuel; so they can function at and feel their best during the day.

Of course, one of the most powerful things you can do as a parent is to be a good sleep role model yourself: to let your kids see you making sleep a priority in your own life, too. It may not be an easy thing to do, but it’s worth it. You’ll be able to think more clearly, react more calmly, and you’ll have more energy to do all the things you want to do—including being the parent you want to be. 

Here’s to making this the best school year ever for you and your kids; and to savouring the gift that is sleep.


Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting including, most recently, Parenting Through the Storm.