One of the loveliest things about the summer holidays is being unconstrained by the usual routine of school timings. Almost all families find their schedule slips over the summer, with later bedtimes and inconsistent wake up times being common. Throw into the mix a relaxation of usual boundaries around things such as screen-time, and it’s easy to see why many families are nearing the end of the summer break with sleep nowhere near school-ready. This isn’t cause for alarm – after all, breaks from school are a time for children to decompress and for families to relax.

Children need a sufficient quality and quantity of sleep to keep them physically, cognitively and emotionally healthy. Research tells us that a lack of sleep in school-aged children can cause issues with problem-solving, attention and memory. Sleep-deprived children also often struggle to regulate their emotions and behaviour, with a knock-on effect of poor academic performance. Good quality sleep isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a biological imperative.

And so, as the new term looms, getting our children back into healthy sleep habits is vital. Here are my top tips for finding your school-ready sleep groove…

Be in the know

The first step is to know how much sleep your child needs. Whilst there is always some variation, studies have established broad age-based ranges. For children aged 3-5 years, the typical sleep need is 10-13 hours in 24. For children aged 6-12, it’s 9-12 hours.

Be honest

Children respond better when they feel part of team, rather than when they feel something is being done to them. Have an open conversation, using age-appropriate language, to explain the importance of sleep. Children don’t always have to like the changes you make, but even unpopular changes can be imposed respectfully. Be honest that you are making sleep a priority for the whole family.

Be realistic and start where you are

If your child has been falling asleep at 10pm, putting them into bed at 8pm, expecting them to sleep is unrealistic and the result is likely to be a lengthy bedtime battle, that no one enjoys. All of us are guided through each period of 24 hours by internal biological clocks. These clocks drive our circadian rhythm, and by association, our patterns of sleep. Our circadian rhythm anchors to consistent timings – and so if 10pm has been bedtime for the past few weeks, then it won’t feel like bedtime until that time. Children can usually shift their body-clock by around one hour over three to four days – aiming for bigger steps than this tends to be setting a child up to fail.

Set a rhythm

Once you’ve worked out how by how much you need to shift your child’s pattern, start by waking them in the morning 15-20 minutes earlier that they have been waking. If possible, get outside in the natural daylight as soon after starting the day as you can – this gives the body-clock a natural kickstart. That evening, aim to have your child in bed 15-20 minutes earlier than the time they have been going to sleep. The following morning, wake them a further 15-20 minutes earlier than the previous day, and then go slightly earlier again to bed that evening. Continue like this until you have closed the gap from where you started and where you want to be. If your child is returning to school this week, you may not get all the way to your target bedtime before term starts but do get as far as you can.

Deploy tech wisely

Gadgets get a bad rap when it comes to their impact on sleep – but their use is a fact of a life, with almost all families finding that screen-use increases over the holidays. Getting sleep into school-ready shape means establishing boundaries about how and when children use devices. Ideally, we want to avoid screens for at least one, preferably two, hours before bedtime. But this doesn’t mean tech is always a sleep no-go – in fact, it can be a super sleep aid when used in the right way. A relaxing audio story or guided meditation is a great way of supporting a child to settle at bedtime. Just make sure any devices are removed from your child’s room once they are asleep to avoid tech disturbing them overnight. A 2017 study found that over a fifth of 12 to 15 year olds, “almost always” check their social media through the night. Unsurprising, a huge one third of the study participants reported "almost always" going to school feeling tired!