How to Create a Back-to-School Sleep Schedule for Your Kids

Learn how to help your kids transition from a summer sleep schedule to a back-to-school bedtime.

By Sheryl Grassie

School is approaching, and the stores are full of back to school supplies, but the kids are still running around the neighborhood without a care for classrooms or getting enough sleep. It’s hard to think about reigning in their summer fun, but things will need to change once school starts.

Easing Kids into an Earlier Bedtime

The carefree months of summer bring with them a more relaxed schedule, longer days, and generally much later bedtimes for kids. The sun is still up well into the evening, and mornings have no rush to be out the door. Unfortunately, this leisure must end, and the return to school may mean a drastic change in schedule where getting to bed earlier becomes the priority.

Going back to school can be an exciting time for kids, but it can also be stressful. If your child starts back to school sleep deprived, learning and concentration can be difficult. If you wait until the first day of school to change their sleep schedule, it can come with tantrums and crabby mornings. The general wisdom on the subject suggests a gradual shift in sleep schedule with lots of positive support to help your child transition easily.

Why Is Sleep So Important For School?

The National Sleep Foundation stresses the importance of getting kids on a good sleep schedule and making sure they have enough hours of sleep—especially during the school year. Along with new clothes and school supplies, think about how your child will get enough sleep to do well in the classroom. Sufficient sleep serves several purposes.

Alertness and Focus

Most kids naturally want to do well in school, but if they can’t pay attention because they are overtired, it is hard to accomplish. As little as 25 minutes less sleep per night, can lead to inattentiveness and lower grades.

Physical Health

Sleep has a profound effect on health. It boosts immune function, regulates metabolism, and recharges the system. Lack of sleep can mean more colds and flus, increased chance of obesity, and can create chronic health problems that interfere with regular school attendance. As important as good food and regular exercise is, sleep is equally as crucial for good health.

Psychological Health

A lack of sleep can lead to anxiety, depression, and mood disorders in children. We all know the crazy emotional ups and downs of a child who is lacking sleep. Make sure your child gets enough sleep daily, in a consistent and stress free manner, to keep them happy and stabilize their moods.

How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?

Recommendations vary slightly, but the following ranges apply for children of all ages:

  • Under 1 year: 14-16 hours per day (this can include naps)
  • 1-2 year olds: 11-14 hours per day (this can include naps)
  • 3-5 year olds: 10-13 hours per day (this can include naps)
  • 6-12 year olds: 9-11 hours each night
  • 13-18 year olds: 8-10 hours each night

Sleep and School Facts

  • Being overtired or ill from lack of sleep is commonly credited for school absences.
  • Missing only two days a month of school will noticeably impact academic performance.
  • Children who get the needed amount of sleep do better in school.
  • Days missed in the first month of school often set a pattern for days missed over the school year.

How to Begin a New Back-to-School Sleep Schedule

Adorable little blond kid boy in colorful nightwear clothes sleeping and dreaming in his white bed with toy. healthy child with soft toy, peaceful sleep at home.

Start early to avoid absences in the first month of school. Make a plan and break it down.

Determine Your Child’s Sleep Needs And Bedtime

If your child is 8 and needs at least 10 hours of sleep per night, calculate backwards. For example: School starts at 8:30 a.m., and we leave the house to drive at 8:15 a.m. He needs an hour and 15 minutes to get up, get ready, and eat breakfast without being rushed. That means wake up by 7:00 a.m. at the latest. If he needs 10 hours, then bedtime needs to be around 8:30 p.m., so he is asleep by 9:00 p.m.

Start Several Weeks Before School and Shift Bedtime Slowly

Adjust bedtime in 15 minute increments to gently recalibrate their circadian rhythm. If your child is currently going to bed at 10:00 p.m. and you want them to bed by 8:30 p.m., move their bedtime back by 15 minutes every few days. Start at 9:45 p.m., then move it up 9:30 p.m. until you reach 8:30 p.m. Do the same on the other end by waking them 15 minutes earlier in the morning every few days until they are on the desired schedule for school.

Sleep Hygiene for Kids

Transitioning from a summer schedule to a back to school schedule and getting a good night’s sleep can be hard for kids. Keep it positive and help them with the following tips for better sleep.

Have a Consistent Bedtime Routine

Put on pajamas, brush teeth, read two stories, and lights out. Make it something they enjoy, and support the routine with positive comments like, “You do such a good job brushing your teeth.”

Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment

Especially when transitioning to an earlier sleep schedule in the summer while it is still light out, use room darkening curtains or shades to help your child sleep. A cool, quiet room with a fan or white noise machine will help them fall asleep and stay asleep.

Limit Screen Time Before Bed

The blue light from all screens—television, tablets, computers, and phones—all interfere with sleep. Experts recommend no screen time for at least an hour, and preferably 2 hours before bed. Electronics should not be in the bedroom or left on in the background.

Watch Caffeine and Sugar

Caffeine can be hidden in foods like sodas and chocolate, and if eaten too close to bed, they can make falling asleep difficult. Sugar also can create an energy burst that will keep kids awake at bedtime.

Large Meals and Evening Eating

Good sleep hygiene practices encourage having a bigger meal around mid-day instead of in the evening. Kids and adults both need time to digest before sleeping, so limit size of evening snacks for healthier sleep.

Exercise Do’s and Don’ts

Do make sure your child gets exercise during the day. This can really help with a good night’s sleep. Don’t have exercise time in the evening; keep kids calm and engaged in quieter activates after dinner and before bed. Evening exercise can over stimulate kids and make it hard for them to fall asleep.

Prepare the Night Before

Have them pick out the clothes they will wear to school, pack a lunch, get backpacks sorted, and find anything they need for school the next day. This lowers morning stress, and kids sleep better when they feel things are in order.

Have a Morning Routine

Kids do better with routine. Have a short list of things they do in the morning like make their bed and help with breakfast. This sets them up to feel like they have accomplished something and sets a positive tone for the morning.

Make Sure They Get Light in the Morning

Being exposed to light first thing in the morning helps with several things. It works to stop sleep hormone production and wake your child up so they are more alert for school. Also, it sets their circadian rhythm and makes it easier for them to fall asleep at night. So, open the curtains or encourage a quick walk around the block with the dog, have them walk to school, or turn on the lights in the house.

Rewards

For some children, a sticker board or other reward systems are helpful for changing their sleep schedule. So, for every night that they go to bed on time and wake up on time without a fuss, they get a star or token that can be exchanged for a favorite treat or activity. This reward process can also give structure to reinforcing the positive, “You are doing such a great job going to bed earlier and getting ready for school.”


Summary

Establishing a good back-to-school sleep schedule is helpful for children. Start several weeks in advance, determine how much sleep they need, then adjust their schedule accordingly. You can utilize tips from good sleep hygiene to make going to sleep a pleasant experience and encourage good overall sleep habits. The benefits of a good night’s sleep will be noticeable at home and at school.


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