How to help your grade-schooler establish healthy sleep habits
Between the ages of 5 and 8, kids generally need 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night, and all but a few have given up naps. Most children this age go to bed between 7:30 and 9 p.m. and get up between 6:30 and 8 a.m. Once your child starts school, especially if he's switching from half- to full days, you may find that he actually needs more sleep and is ready to go to bed earlier than he did when he was younger. What's more, not getting enough sleep can have a major impact on your child's daytime behavior and school performance. (For more on sleep patterns at various ages, see our chart.)
If your grade-schooler is a poor sleeper (and even if he's not) these techniques will help him get a better night's rest:
• Stick to a set bedtime Your child should go to bed at the same time every night — weekends included — ideally between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. (Many parents, especially those who work outside the home, balk at an early bedtime — but unless your child can and does snooze until 8 a.m. every day, a 9 p.m. bedtime will deprive him of much-needed sleep.) This will help his internal clock stay on track and make it easier for him to fall asleep easily and quickly at bedtime. Your grade-schooler may seem to have more stamina than he did when he was little, but it's still vital to make sleep a priority.
• Keep a consistent bedtime routine. Bedtime rituals aren't just for babies. Your "big kid" may be more independent now, getting ready for bed on his own and even reading his own bedtime story, but taking the same familiar steps each night will help him wind down from a busy day. Bedtime routines can include a bath or shower, reading stories together (or listening to your child practice his new reading skills), and perhaps some quiet music. Avoid television before bed (and no TV in the bedroom, please — not only will it keep him up, it may contribute to obesity and reduced academic achievement). Research has shown that evening television viewing disrupts children's sleep and results in more nightmares and other sleep problems. The entire bedtime routine should generally last between 30 and 45 minutes. If you find your routine dragging on for an hour or more, take steps to trim it back a bit: A couple of stories are fine, but not chapter after chapter of Harry Potter. Also make sure the routine heads in one direction — to bed. If you call your child upstairs for a bath, for instance, don't let him come back downstairs to say goodnight to the family pet when he's done. Instead, head to the bedroom for pajamas and storytime.
Give your child a chance to unload his worries. Bedtime presents a great opportunity to connect with your child and to find out what's going on in his life. During hurried afternoons and evenings, when there's homework to be done and dinner to be cooked, it's often hard to find the time to talk about your grade-schooler's day. The result can be unaired anxieties that keep your child awake at night, a common problem for school-age kids. Instead of letting that happen, make a point to ask your child about the best and worst moments in his day. Those two simple questions will help the two of you maintain a sense of closeness — as well as provide a window into your child's increasingly independent life.