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Back to School Bedtimes - How to Help Your Kids Adjust

Going back to school is daunting for many reasons. While we all know that quality sleep is essential to children’s success at school, for parents, one of the most difficult adjustments at the beginning of the school year is re-establishing a bedtime routine and earlier bedtimes for their children.

Setting Bedtime for Back to School

Getting enough sleep is critical for kids of any age, 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.

Why is Sleep So important?

Sleep is an incredibly important part of keeping a child 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)

Keeping a consistent bedtime schedule establishes a rhythm that makes it easier for your child to get the recommended amount of sleep for their age. Research shows that teens who have a parent-set bedtime get around 20 more minutes of sleep per night.

Here's how you can help your family get back on track with a back to school bedtime routine:

Limit screen time before bed.

Bright lights (especially those from TV and phone screens) can cause over-stimulation and reduce melatonin, making it difficult for your child to fall asleep. It is best to reserve screen time for late afternoon or early evening—not right before bedtime. Instead, opt for a book or a quiet activity that promotes a more calm environment prior to bedtime.

Set an earlier bedtime.

Children naturally stay up later during the summer for many reasons. So, making the switch from relaxing summer days and sleeping in to waking up earlier and being ready to head out the door can feel like a huge adjustment. The best approach to take is a gradual one.

Even if your child has already started school, you can still slowly start to move up bedtime by 15 or 20 minutes each night until you reach an appropriate time. And if your child has trouble falling asleep, here are some tips to fall asleep faster.

Plan activities and meal schedules ahead of time.

The beginning of the school year can also bring an assortment of after school activities, which can alter meal times. Scheduling meals earlier in the day can help avoid food-related disturbances at night and help promote earlier bedtimes. Plus, it will give your child plenty of time to unwind before bed.

Make bedtime a habit for the whole family.

It is best to set bedtime as close as possible for all children in the household. If one child feels left out because he has an earlier bedtime than his sister, it'll probably be more difficult for him to adjust. You can also have everyone in the family participate in the bedtime routine which helps promote healthy sleep habits in general.

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 pillow, 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 can also help them to sleep.

Keep your bedtime routine consistent.

Children long for routine more than most of us realize. When they know what to expect, it helps give them a sense of security and support—making bedtime a whole lot easier. Your child might look forward to the time you spend each night putting her to sleep so try and take the same steps each night as you prepare for bed.

How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?

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

A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study found that most American children and teenagers don’t sleep enough. Nearly 6 in 10 middle schoolers and at least 7 in 10 high schoolers don’t sleep enough on school nights. Of the high school students surveyed, almost two-thirds sleep less than eight hours nightly.

What Else Can I Do to Help My Child Sleep Better?

There's a close connection between daytime habits and sleep quality. In addition to working on their bedtime routine, it is important to look at their daytime routines as well. For better sleep, encourage your child to:

Exercise regularly.

Exercise promotes sleep and reduces stress. Remember that inactivity during school years increases the risk for obesity in adulthood. Also note that your child should not exercise too close to bedtime, since this might prevent them from falling asleep.

Avoid too many extracurricular activities.

While it may be fun or exciting to have a schedule full of activities, free time and rest time are also important to children’s development. Less time spent on extracurriculars is also associated with more sleep in adolescents.

Limit napping.

Napping in adolescents is linked to shorter and poorer sleep at night. Naps should not be taken if they interfere with sleep at night. However, if your child needs to nap in order to function well for the rest of the day, try to keep the naps less than 30 minutes long. If your child is young and does need a nap, a travel pillow makes a smaller, easier to carry choice.

Avoid caffeine.

Caffeine is a stimulant found in soft drinks, coffee, tea, and energy drinks. Caffeine can keep your child alert and awake well after bedtime. The CDC does not recommend caffeine for children or adolescents and its intake should be limited.

More than just a routine, bedtime is a time to bond with your kids and set them up with healthy sleep habits that will last a lifetime. Easing back into the school routine can take a bit of juggling, but with careful planning the new school year should get off to a smooth start.