How to Get Kids on a Sleeping Schedule Before the School Year Starts
Sliding into a back-to-school routine is crucial for the overall health of your family, not to mention your sanity as a parent. Make the transition from summer to school smoother with these sleep tips.
Introduce a back-to-school sleep schedule gradually
You don't want your kids to be exhausted during the first few weeks of school, yet you don't want them to miss out on anything fun during those last weeks of summer. So where do you draw the line and start reinforcing a sleep schedule? Dr. Kristen Gregory, DO, a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, says, "It's important to start reinforcing a schedule at least two to three weeks before school starts. Depending on the age of your child and how much sleep they need, set a bedtime based on the appropriate amount, keeping in mind the time it will take them to get ready to leave in the morning. It's easiest to make this transition gradually, by having children go to bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier every three to four days until the desired bedtime is reached."
Set up a routine
There are a lot of different components that play a role in making sleep routines effective. Working backwards from the time you want shut-eye to start, have the kids pick out outfits the night before, make sure backpacks and lunches are packed and ready to go, and plan whether they will shower before bed or in the morning. "Getting things out of the way before bed allows for more sleep in the morning and less anxiety," Dr. Gregory says. By the way, sleep routines lead to sounder snoozes for all ages.
At the end of the day, consistency is key. "While it may be difficult at first to stick to a new school schedule, it is beneficial to a child's mental and physical well-being. Getting the kids acclimated with a new schedule early on ensures a happy, healthy start to the new school year."
Calculate the number of hours of sleep your child needs
It all depends on their age, says Dr. Gregory. A good guideline is 10 hours of sleep each night, he says. But to break it down by age, children between the ages of three and five need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night; kids ages six to 13 generally require nine to 11 hours of sleep; and teenagers between 14 and 17 need eight to 10 hours. If your kids are restless at night, check out these tricks for better, deeper sleep.
Avoid last-minute sleep stress or meltdowns before bed
Bedtime meltdowns are all-too-familiar to parents. Dr. Gregory says you can side-step trouble by planning activities that will help the kids wind down—and give them plenty of warning. Create a calm environment with bubble baths, bedtime stories, and limiting noise and screen time. And lastly, consistency is always key so they'll know what to expect. "I can't stress enough the importance of remaining on a consistent schedule. It will take more than one night for your child to adjust to the change and keeping a consistent schedule will help your child get familiar with the process and honor the new rules put in place."
Also, he advises engaging your child in the bedtime routine by offering simple choices like wearing green pajamas or blue ones, and whether they want two or three bedtime stories. "This will help them feel included in the decision-making and build excitement around the bedtime routine."
Watch the sodas and energy drinks
Cutting back on caffeine—which can worsen ADHD—and sugar are also something to take into consideration. "Drinking caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and can impede on a child's quality of sleep," warns Dr. Gregory. "It is also a catalyst to middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks and potential accidents. It is best to limit all fluid intake an hour before bed and approximately six hours prior to bedtime for caffeinated beverages."
Make sure the screens—tablets, phones, computers—are off well before bedtime. Dr. Gregory says that, "Technology increases the electrical activity in your brain during use, which is the opposite of what should be happening at a time of impending sleep. The "glow" of these devices has also been shown to delay the release of melatonin, which signals your brain that it's time to sleep. Have kids unplug at least an hour before bedtime to help their brain wind down and prepare for a good night's rest."