How to Get Kids on a Sleeping Schedule Before the School Year Starts

Updated: Mar. 28, 2022

Sliding into a back-to-school routine is crucial for the overall health of your family. Make the transition from summer to school smoother with these sleep tips.

And then they lived happily ever after...
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Start a new routine

Whether your kids are going to class online or heading back to a physical classroom, it’s easier to tackle learning when you have a routine in place. That starts with a good sleeping schedule. Here’s how the experts suggest you can get your kids on a good nighttime routine as the new school year starts.

child sleeping on pillow

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?

If school hasn’t started yet, 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.”

child's clothes hanging in closet

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. Nighttime routines like these lead to sounder sleep 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,” Dr. Gregory says. “Getting the kids acclimated with a new schedule early on ensures a happy, healthy start to the new school year.”

little girl sleeping

Calculate the number of hours of sleep your child needs

It all depends on their age. Children between the ages of three and five need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night, according to a 2015 National Sleep Foundation report in the journal Sleep Health. Kids ages six to 13 generally require nine to 11 hours of sleep. Teenagers between 14 and 17 need eight to 10 hours of sleep. (If your kids are restless at night, check out these tricks for better, deeper sleep.)

sleepy child rubbing eyes

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” he says.

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.”

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Watch the sodas and energy drinks

Cutting back on caffeine and sugar is 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.”

boy on tablet

Limit technology

Make sure the screens—tablets, phones, computers—are off well before bedtime. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that all screens be turned off at least 30 minutes before your kids get tucked in and that no screens should be allowed in a child’s bedroom.

“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,” adds Dr. Gregory. “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.”