The new school year kicks off in just a little more than three weeks, and even if your family is not quite ready to let go of summer, there is one important thing you can start doing now that will have a tremendous impact on your children when school starts.
As a pediatrician and a mom, Dr. Pilar Bradshaw knows that the weeks leading up to the new school year are a transition for families. “And for a lot of us that means thinking about our sleep routine,” she says.
It’s common for kids’ sleep schedules to relax over the summer months—staying up later and sleeping in longer. But remember that it takes time to get a child’s body clock re-regulated to their school-year sleep schedule.
“A few weeks before school starts, try to think about moving bedtime back 15 minutes until you get to your goal bedtime,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “If you think about it that way, you have to look at your calendar and really think ‘OK, if I’m doing three nights at each of these time intervals and our kids are going to bed at 10 during the summer but we’ve got to get them to bed at 7:30,’ that’s going to take you weeks to get kids slowly back to a good bedtime.”
Here are five tips to ease your child into a back-to-school sleep schedule:
- Don’t make the transition overnight as quick changes can lead to sleep deprivation.
- Go 15 minutes at a time, starting a few weeks before school begins.
- Wind down an hour before kids even climb into bed.
- Provide optimal sleeping conditions. For example, use heavy shades to provide darkness, a signal to kids’ bodies that it’s time to sleep.
- Don’t use sleep aids for kids. While they can help children who have significant sleep issues, they should only be used under a doctor’s supervision.
Screen time and sleep
Falling asleep isn’t always easy, so help your child or teen establish a relaxing bedtime routine. That includes cutting off screen time, Dr. Bradshaw says. “About 2 hours before you plan to have your eyes closed and sleep, you should turn off all screens. No screen time, no activities that are agitating, that get your heart rate up, that get you mentally alert.”
Dr. Bradshaw also recommends having your child take a warm shower or bath to help them relax and send blood flow away from their busy brain.
Encourage them to engage in quiet activities like reading or listening to soothing music, then set a firm time for bed, Dr. Bradshaw says. “And once they’ve wound down, then you get in bed, 10 or 15 minutes later lights out.”
How much sleep do kids need?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that school-aged children get 9-12 hours of sleep a night and teens should get 8-10 hours. Getting adequate sleep supports a healthier immune system, better school performance, behavior and mental health.
“Remember that many kids in America need more sleep than they currently get,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “But it’s important remember that sleep is important. Adequate sleep equals healthier bodies.”