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Expert Advice: Back to School Sleep Schedule & Tips for Kids

Back to School Sleep Schedule & Tips for Kids

Written by: Alison Bevan, Sleepytime Coach; Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Child Sleeping

It’s that time of year again! Summer is winding down and it’s time to prepare our children for the start of another busy school year!

If your child’s sleep routines have de-railed over the summer you may be wondering how to get them back on track before the first day of school this fall. The following tips will help to re-establish a regular, age appropriate sleep schedule so they’re ready to meet the challenges of the school year with well rested bodies and minds.

Make sleep a priority.

Lack of quality sleep has been linked to impaired growth and development, behavioral issues, ADD and ADHD, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, obesity and a host of other health problems. Studies show that sleep deprived children are more likely to have mood swings, feel stressed, and experience depression. They’re more likely to sustain injuries when playing sports, have car accidents and participate in dangerous, risk-taking behaviors. They also suffer academically. Sleep deprived children are more likely to fall asleep during class and score lower on standardized tests.

School age children need quality sleep in order to:

  • Pay attention in class
  • Process and remember what they learn
  • Organize their thoughts
  • Predict outcomes
  • Work efficiently
  • Think in abstract terms
  • Be creative
  • Problem solve
  • Control impulses and regulate emotions

Know how much sleep your child needs.

Sleep needs vary from child to child, but most grade school and middle school children require between 9 and 11 hours of sleep each night to be well rested. Teens require between 8 and 10 hours. Getting quality sleep can be challenging with hectic school year schedules – homework, sports and other extracurricular activities often extend way beyond the time that children should be winding down for sleep.

If you’re not sure if your child is getting enough sleep, take a look at their behavior. Are they crabby, irritable and prone to melting down? Do they have trouble waking up in the morning, fall asleep on the ride to or from school or “crash” when they get home? Do they have trouble concentrating or complain about being tired? If so, it’s time to reassess their needs.

Establish and maintain an age appropriate bedtime.

Ideally, children should go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day. Try to avoid scheduling activities that get in the way of your child’s regular bedtime, and don’t let them sleep in on the weekends by more than an hour. A bit more sleep on Saturday or Sunday morning can help your child stay rested, but sleeping until noon will throw off their internal clock and make getting up early on Monday much more difficult.

To determine your child’s ideal bedtime, do the math backwards.

If they need to be up by 7:00 am and require 11 hours of sleep, they should be asleep by 8:00 pm. If your child’s schedule needs adjusting, start a few weeks before classes begin. Move their “summer bedtime” earlier by 15 minutes every night until they’re going to bed at the appropriate "school year" time. Remember to also use the morning wake up time to re-set their schedule. If necessary, wake them up 15 minutes earlier, too.

Create a sleep friendly environment.

To maximize your child’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, make sure their bedroom is dark, cool and quiet.

Bedroom Darkness

Darkness triggers the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us drowsy. To support that process, dim the lights an hour before bedtime. Turn off televisions, computers, and other electronics that emit blue light, which is especially disruptive to sleep. Make sure that your child’s room is as dark as possible when it’s time for lights out. If they aren’t comfortable with total darkness use a night light that’s 4 watts or less.

Bedroom Temperature

Temperature plays an equally important role when it comes to a good night’s sleep. Core body temperature drops naturally in preparation for sleep, so try to limit strenuous physical activity during the last few hours before lights out. Most experts agree that the ideal room temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If your home or neighborhood is noisy, a white noise machine or fan can block out sounds that may keep your child awake or disturb them during the night.

Limit caffeine.

Soda, tea, coffee, and energy drinks are loaded with caffeine, a powerful stimulant that can interfere with quality sleep. Limit your child’s caffeine intake, especially after 2:00 or 3:00 pm. Some over the counter medications also contain caffeine, so ask your pediatrician for caffeine free alternatives instead.

Certain foods, on the other hand, actually promote sleep. Dairy products, grains, legumes, leafy greens, poultry, fish, fruits like bananas, peaches and apples, nuts and seeds all contain tryptophan, which converts to melatonin in the brain. Calcium rich foods also help the brain produce melatonin, and magnesium works well with calcium to help our muscles relax. Try offering your child a sleep-inducing snack about an hourbefore bedtime. Avoid spicy foods and foods high in fat and protein, which are harder to digest and can cause heartburn, reflux or gas.

Model good sleep habits.

Respecting your own need for sleep is a wonderful way to model the value of sleep for your child. You’re their first and most influential teacher. Doing everything you can to set a good example will not only help them to be successful in school - it will establish habits that lead to a lifetime of healthy sleep.

Sweet Dreams!

Key Takeaways for Parents

Alison Bevan
Written By: Alison Bevan

Sleepytime Coach; Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant; The Center For Advanced Pediatrics

Alison Bevan is a Baby and Child Sleep Consultant that has helped thousands of families get a good night’s sleep. She is the Staff Pediatric Sleep Specialist at The Center For Advanced Pediatrics and consults through her private practice – As the mother of a 17 year old that struggled with sleep as a baby and toddler, Alison has a unique understanding and empathy for the families she supports. She is a Happiest Baby Educator, a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach with a specialty in 4-5 month old sleep, a member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants and a guest speaker and contributing author for numerous organizations and publications dedicated to family health and wellness.