Wake Up to a Back-2-School Sleep Schedule
Article by Michelle Karten, MD., primary care pediatrician at Nemours duPont Pediatrics, Villanova, Pa
It may be hard for kids everywhere to think about, but there aren’t many lazy days of summer vacation left — and some students are already back in the classroom. No doubt, with all the summer activities and getaways, your kids’ sleep schedules may have gone a bit haywire. But there’s still time to help get them on a back-to-school sleep schedule and practice some healthy sleep habits if you start, well, now.
How to Make the Dreaded Transition to a Back-to-School Sleep Schedule
The best way to prepare your children for a back-to-school sleep schedule is by beginning early — 10 days to two weeks early, to be exact. If you don’t have that much time left between now and your kids’ first day, don’t fret — just start as soon as you can.
Progressively wake your kids 15 minutes earlier each morning and put them to bed 15 minutes earlier than the previous day. This will help you work toward having them ready and adjusted to sleeping the right amount while still waking up for school at the correct time each morning. Beginning this process before the school year starts can allow your children to adjust to the back-to-school sleep schedule prior to the first day. That way, when the first day of school arrives, your kids can wake up rejuvenated and ready to put their mind to the test.
7 Tips for Keeping Healthy Sleep Habits
Getting back on track isn’t the only challenge when it comes to school year sleep schedules — you also have to maintain good sleep habits to maximize sleep time. Here are some tips to help you establish and keep a healthy sleep schedule for your kids.
1. Be consistent. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule without changes, even on weekends, is really helpful. It can even help keep kids’ circadian rhythms (the body’s internal clock) regulated.
2. Maintain a soothing bedtime routine to wind down and relax. A consistent and relaxing bedtime routine will help signal to your children’s bodies that it’s time to sleep. Establishing “quiet time,” reading a book, hearing a bedtime story, and performing other relaxing activities like taking a warm bath or shower can help kids prepare for bed.
3. Limit screen time before bed. Turn off the TV and other electronics an hour before bed and keep their mobile devices outside the bedroom. Studies show that the light of screens (cell phones, tablets, laptops) can confuse our bodies into thinking it’s still light outside, making it harder to fall asleep.
4. Create a calm sleep environment. Having an environment conducive to sleep makes a huge difference for kids. That means making sure kids have a dark and quiet room, a comfortable bed, and a comfortable room temperature (68–72 degrees). White noise machines or a fan can also be effective in soothing your kids to sleep by creating a consistent and rhythmic sound. Playing soft, calming music (think classical) can also help them to sleep.
5. Nix caffeine within six hours of bedtime. This includes sodas and other caffeinated beverages that can interrupt a child’s natural sleeping patterns.
6. Avoid big meals before bedtime. Meals with oversized portions or spicy foods can cause discomfort from indigestion and make it hard for kids to fall asleep.
7. Exercise after school. Physical activity in the afternoon can help ensure a good night’s sleep by tiring kids out during the day. Some kids find it harder to sleep if they exercise too close to bedtime, so make sure to encourage exercise when it works best for them.
Why Is Sleep So Important?
Getting enough sleep is critical for kids, especially during the school year. Not only is sleep important for academic success, but a number of studies have shown a connection between sleep deprivation and health complications.
Sleep is an incredibly important part of keeping healthy and performing well in school. Lack of sleep has been connected to: greater risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression hyperactivity, irritability and impulsivity problems with skills needed for learning (attention, concentration, memory, problem-solving and decision-making)
How Much Sleep Do They Really Need?
The transition back to school and homework can be trying enough without adding exhaustion into the mix. So ensure that your kids are sleeping enough. But exactly how much sleep is “enough”?
The amount of sleep a child needs may vary, depending on your child and their individual needs. But the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends these ranges for how much sleep children should get during a 24-hour period:
Ages 4–12 months: 12–16 hours (including naps)
Ages 1–2 years: 11–14 hours (including naps)
Ages 3–5 years: 10–13 hours (including naps)
Ages 6–12 years: 9–12 hours
Ages 13–18 years: 8–10 hours
Transitioning from a summer sleep schedule to a back-to-school sleep schedule doesn’t have to be torture. Starting ASAP, practicing good sleep habits, and ensuring you kids get enough sleep will help make waking up on the first day of school — and every day after that — easier for your kids and for you.
The YMCA of Greater Brandywine offers different childcare and early education options throughout Chester County. From kindergarten academy to Montessori preschool programs and even before and after school care, learn more about what's right here at the Y for you.