Setting Effective Schedules
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Last week on social media, I posted 3 sleep tips to help optimize learning from home. With so many people schooling via homeschool, virtual school, or some type of hybrid situation due to the #pandemic, schedules are important to talk about. I thought it might help to expand on those three tips in a blog post. Even if you aren't #homeschooling this year, I promise there's going to be a ton of helpful information about sleep and schedules in general, so keep reading!
In case you missed them, here are the 3 tips I shared on social media about the importance of schedules while schooling from home:
Even though you don't really HAVE to follow a set schedule, do it anyway, at least concerning sleep.
Even though a late schedule may be tempting, it's not ideal.
Make sure your child is getting the recommended amount of sleep each night for optimal learning (added: or for optimal behavior if not school age).
When you're homeschooling, or a #SAHM (stay at home mom) with little ones, following a set schedule isn't necessary. However, it's still very beneficial. We ALL have a circadian rhythm, or internal body clock. This circadian rhythm is set to the natural flow of day and night. Have you ever traveled a few time zones away and experienced jet lag? That's because your circadian rhythm is still set to the flow of day and night in the other time zone. It takes a few days to adjust to the natural flow in the new time zone.
Your circadian rhythm LOVES a set schedule. When on a set schedule, it works with your body to produce natural hormones that help you sleep and wake when needed. For example, if you always put your children to bed at 7:30 p.m., then their bodies know to start producing melatonin a little before then to help them sleep. If you always wake them up at 7:00 a.m., then their little bodies know to start producing cortisol at that time to help them wake up. (This is my kids' exact schedule, by the way, with a nap at noon.)
If you don't follow a set schedule, then your body has no idea when to produce these hormones to help you sleep and wake. Before about 6 months of age, I recommend using wake times with babies. This means their schedule fluctuates each day depending on when and how long they nap. However, around 6-8 months (or when they go down to 2 naps), I usually suggest switching to a set schedule based on the appropriate wake times. Having a set schedule is beneficial for all ages beyond then.
Your circadian rhythm LOVES a set schedule.
A Late Schedule Isn't Ideal
When you don't have to follow a set schedule, it can be tempting to let kids stay up later and sleep in as long as possible. You may assume that sleep is sleep any time of day. However, that's not quite how it works. Remember that circadian rhythm I mentioned above? Our bodies are set to the natural flow of day and night. Even if you don't have a set schedule, your body generally knows when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake along with day and night.
As a result, sleep is naturally the deepest before 12:00 midnight. This is when a lot of the growth, brain development, and immune boosting happens in our bodies. After midnight, sleep begins to get lighter and lighter over the early morning to prepare you to wake up. There is still some growth and development happening here too, as you still continue to go through sleep cycles. Yet sleep overall is not as deep and restorative in the morning. This is why babies usually sleep their longest stretch when they are first put down at night, then may have frequent wakings through the early morning. Babies and toddlers who take a nap do so simply to help them get through the day without getting overtired. Sleep during the day is the lightest of all.
So, what all of that means is that in order to get the most optimal sleep...the deep, restorative sleep that promotes brain development, growth, and overall health...you want to be getting as much sleep as possible before midnight. A child who goes to bed at 10:00 p.m. and sleeps in until 9:00 a.m. may be getting the appropriate hours of sleep, but those hours aren't as beneficial as they could be on an earlier schedule.
The most biologically natural wake time for children is between 6:00-7:00 a.m. For the most beneficial sleep possible, use a wake-up time in that range. Then figure out a bedtime that gives them enough sleep by their wake-up time. Just in case you need another reason for an earlier schedule: night owls are more likely to struggle with depression and addictions. Morning bird behaviors are linked to better moods, energy, and general health (Holistic Sleep Coaching by Lyndsey Hookway).
Sleep is naturally the deepest before 12:00 midnight.
Recommended Amount of Sleep
That brings me to the next point: make sure your child is getting the appropriate amount of sleep in a day. A lack of sleep can hinder things like memory retention, focus, and mood while learning. For younger ones who aren't in school, a lack of sleep can also affect behavior, ability to cope with stress and change, and overall health. Getting enough sleep is extremely important for optimal functioning during the day.
Below are the recommended daily amounts of sleep for children. For younger ones, this amount includes both naps and nighttime sleep in a 24-hour period. For older ones, who no longer nap, they should be getting the full amount at night.
1-3 months: 14-17 hours
4-12 months: 12-15 hours
13 months-3 years: 11-14 hours
3-5 years: 10-13 hours
6-13 years: 9-11 hours
14-17 years: 8-10 hours
So, let's put it all together with a few different scenarios.
For an 8 month-old who wakes up at 6:30 a.m., takes 2 naps totaling 2 hours, and needs an average of 13-14 hours of sleep in a day, bedtime should be no later than 7:30 p.m.
For a 4 year-old who wakes up at 7:00 a.m., doesn't nap, and needs an average of 11-12 hours of sleep, then bedtime should be no later than 8:00 p.m.
For a 10 year-old who needs to wake up at 6:45 a.m. for school, doesn't nap, and needs an average of 10 hours of sleep, bedtime should be no later than 8:45 p.m.
Since the recommended daily amount of sleep is a range, I usually shoot for the middle of that range when figuring out an appropriate bedtime. If a child has trouble waking up or is really cranky in the morning or late evening, that's a sign that he needs more sleep. Move bedtime forward to allot for the higher amount of needed sleep. If a child consistently wakes up much before 6:00 a.m., then bedtime could be too early. Well-rested children will wake up happy and ready to seize the day!
A set schedule + an early schedule + the right amount of sleep = the most beneficial and effective sleep for being well-rested, healthy, and focused all day long!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant