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Help your kids sleep with these expert tips

How do you give your kids a good night’s sleep when they’re wired from their summertime schedule?

Illustration: Courtesy Jenn Liv

Getting kids to sleep isn't always easy, especially when you're transitioning from a loose summer schedule to a rigid school routine. Janet K. Kennedy, Ph.D. and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, shares her very best kids' sleep tips for your kids' back-to-school success.

Bedtime routines can totally fly out the window in the summertime. Do you have any recommendations for readjusting bedtime for the first day of school?

The key to getting kids back on schedule is to get them up on time. If they’re getting up at a normal time, for camp maybe, then it’ll be easier to move their bedtime up. They’ll be exhausted. If they’re sleeping much later than usual, it’s a good idea to start waking them up at their normal school time at least a week before school starts, ideally two weeks before. This sets the body clock so that fatigue pulls them to the right bedtime. It’s harder to put a kid to bed—well, anybody to bed—when [they’re] not sleepy. This goes for getting back on track after vacation as an adult, too…you can’t force yourself to sleep if you’re not sleepy, but you can set an earlier wake time to find an earlier bedtime.

What’s the best way to keep a routine when the kids are back in school?

You need to say, “It’s time to go to bed now,” and mean it. The more you are able to mean what you say and follow through, the less pushback you’re going to get. It’s important for parents to stay in charge and realize that just because your kid is asking for something, or even says he [or she] needs something, doesn’t mean that it’s really true. You as the adult are the ultimate decision maker, and it’s your job to sometimes make decisions that make your kids unhappy because they need you to do that to keep them healthy and safe. I always say, safety and health trump happiness!

Is screen time before bedtime a no-go idea for kids?

Screen time disrupts sleep for kids if it’s not timed properly. Kids get their melatonin for the night earlier than adults do. Many things emit blue light: bulbs, televisions, laptops…. Handheld devices send blue light straight into your brain through your retinas, and it shuts down the brain’s release of melatonin. That can really disrupt the sleep cycle, and even though the child needs to sleep, it’ll be much harder to fall asleep because [the melatonin disruption] distorts their body clock. Generally, you should put the screen to rest at least an hour before bed. Make some clear rules for screen time and stick to them. When kids are wired or overtired (from a game or otherwise), they’ll delay going to bed.

Let’s bring exercise into the equation. Do you think that it plays a big factor in kids getting a good night’s sleep?

Certainly it does, though you don’t want to be exercising right before bed. By exercising, I also mean racing around the house and playing tickle monster. Those are seriously not good pre-bedtime activities! Exercise is important for burning off energy but just during the day! Exercise, of course, is also just good for the body…your brain releases endorphins that are calming and help everything feel better and run more smoothly. It’s good to play calm activities at night.

So many NYC kids share a room. Do you have any ideas for kids who disrupt each other before bed?

It’s much better to reward kids for doing the right thing than to punish them for doing the wrong thing. You’re more likely to get what you want from them when you catch them doing the right thing and reward it. But if they’re just used to getting negative attention, it can be harder to convince them to do the right thing. Punishment becomes less meaningful when kids get used to it. It’s all about setting limits for roughhousing, just like anything else. Set limits that are appropriate and stick to them. Their own time together can be great for their relationship, but just make sure it’s in the realm of everyone being able to get the sleep they need.

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