8 Tips for Better Back-to-School Sleep

Written by: Nicole Johnson, founder and lead consultant of THE BABY SLEEP SITE®

As you and your family enjoy a fun, active, and relaxing break, in the back of your mind, you’re probably starting to think about how you will possibly get the kids up and out the door on time for school. All of the late bedtimes, sleeping in, and less structure to your day during your break can wreak havoc on the first month of school, especially as it pertains to sleep.

But, have no fear, you can transition back-to-school with ease and set up your child to have success this school year! Enjoy these 8 tips to an easier back-to-school transition and better sleep this upcoming school year.

2-3 Weeks Before School Starts

1) Add Structure Back To Your Day

If you have a very flexible schedule during breaks, you may want to start adding at least a little structure back into your day. For example, you might start having breakfast and dinner around the same time every day as well as institute some “reading time” of at least 20 minutes a day to get back into “homework” mode. Another good idea is to have a set bedtime (even if it’s late, at first) and a specific time all devices are turned off, ideally at least 1 hour before bedtime. These small little things can get your child back into a routine, even if much of it is still flexible. 

2) Gradually Wake Up Earlier

Your kids probably won’t like it, but if you want a smoother transition back to school, it pays to start changing their sleep schedule at least 2-3 weeks ahead of time. If 3 weeks sounds too “extreme” consider at least 1 to 1 ½ weeks prior. To ease the transition, consider doing something fun each morning for the first several days to make it “worth” it for them and get buy-in. 

One important aspect of internal clocks is that it’s hard to make your body fall asleep when you’ve slept late that day. The easiest way to change your child’s sleep schedule is to gradually begin waking them earlier and earlier in the morning. Light stimulating our eyes is what signals our brain whether to wake or sleep. Within just a few days, your child’s body will adjust and he or she will begin to get sleepier earlier in the night. Keep in mind it doesn’t always work the first day, but rather over a period of days.

So, for example, if your teenager has begun to sleep until 9 or 10 AM, like mine, you will want to start waking him up 15-30 minutes earlier, depending on how many days you have to get the job done and how rapid you want to shift. You can shift every day or every other day for a more gradual transition. Here is an example when you start 2 weeks prior:

3) Limit Late Bedtimes

Once you begin changing your child’s sleep schedule, be sure to limit later bedtimes to no more than once a week. Otherwise, you can quickly undo all of your hard work. Be careful, because one day of “sleeping in” can make it so you have to start all the way over! 

2 Weeks After School Starts

4) Make Bedtime Earlier

Once your child starts school, it’s easy to forget just how over-tired and over-stimulated they can get. They are getting to know their new teacher(s), new rules, expectations, listening to lectures, and doing homework. And, if your child is an athlete like my two boys, they may also be exerting physical energy. The physical energy is a great way to de-stress, but your children are bound to come home extra tired, mentally and physically. I try to remind myself to be more patient the first few weeks after school starts. 

An important thing to consider is making bedtime earlier. If your “plan” for the school year is to have a 9:30 PM bedtime, consider making it 9:00 PM the first two weeks of school. Your child may need a bit more sleep during this transition phase and an earlier bedtime can do wonders!

5) Limit Social Activities

Try not to overbook your child with social activities the first few weeks of school. This will allow your child (and you!) to relax on the weekends. This is especially important if your child is an athlete or has other outside-school responsibilities. This can help them avoid getting overly tired so soon into the school year, but will also give them more time to focus on getting organized and getting their school work done on time. This helps them start the new school year out right! 

During the School Year

6) Set Bedtime Accordingly

Children need a lot of sleep to support their growth and development as well as be better-behaved, in better moods, and perform better academically. 

School-aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. And, while it might seem like they need “just” 8 hours like adults, many teenagers need 9 to 9 ½ hours of sleep every day. Observe your child for about a week to determine their unique average sleep needs.

Once you know how much sleep your child needs, try to set bedtime accordingly every weeknight. Keep in mind that not all children can fall asleep very quickly. If your child needs ~15-20 minutes of downtime, needs to wake up at 6:30 AM, and needs 9 ½ hours of sleep, on average, then you will want your child in bed at around 8:30 PM. This will allow 20 minutes of downtime, lights out at 8:50 PM, asleep by 9:00 PM, which gives him or her the 9 ½ hours of sleep. 

 7) Catch Up On Sleep On The Weekend 

I don’t know about you, but my boys are sometimes not even home until 8 or 8:30 PM if they have sports game or practice, so an early bedtime is simply impossible. Rather than make them stop doing what they love, we simply need to do some “catch up” on the weekend. This means they aren’t always allowed to go to bed late on Friday or Saturday night, depending on what is on the calendar for that weekend. Keep in mind that late bedtimes may make your child wake earlier the next day, so allowing late bedtimes on the weekend can backfire. If you allow a late bedtime, try not to let it go past 30 minutes to an hour from their normal bedtime to make Monday morning easier.

Well, there you have it. If you follow these 8 tips as much as possible, you will have a smoother transition back to school, more happ(ier) Monday mornings, and a better-behaved child during the school week!

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Nicole Johnson
Written By: Nicole Johnson

Founder and Lead Consultant of The Baby Sleep Site®

Nicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep”. If you have your own sleep issues, Nicole and her team at The Baby Sleep Site® can help!

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