Back to School Sleep Schedule & Tips for Kids
It’s that time of year again! Summer is winding down and it’s time to prepare our children for the start of another busy school year!
If your child’s sleep routines have de-railed over the summer you may be wondering how to get them back on track before the first day of school this fall. The following tips will help to re-establish a regular, age appropriate sleep schedule so they’re ready to meet the challenges of the school year with well rested bodies and minds.
Lack of quality sleep has been linked to impaired growth and development, behavioral issues, ADD and ADHD, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, obesity and a host of other health problems. Studies show that sleep deprived children are more likely to have mood swings, feel stressed, and experience depression. They’re more likely to sustain injuries when playing sports, have car accidents and participate in dangerous, risk-taking behaviors. They also suffer academically. Sleep deprived children are more likely to fall asleep during class and score lower on standardized tests.
School age children need quality sleep in order to:
- Pay attention in class
- Process and remember what they learn
- Organize their thoughts
- Predict outcomes
- Work efficiently
- Think in abstract terms
- Be creative
- Problem solve
- Control impulses and regulate emotions
Sleep needs vary from child to child, but most grade school and middle school children require between 9 and 11 hours of sleep each night to be well rested. Teens require between 8 and 10 hours. Getting quality sleep can be challenging with hectic school year schedules – homework, sports and other extracurricular activities often extend way beyond the time that children should be winding down for sleep.
If you’re not sure if your child is getting enough sleep, take a look at their behavior. Are they crabby, irritable and prone to melting down? Do they have trouble waking up in the morning, fall asleep on the ride to or from school or “crash” when they get home? Do they have trouble concentrating or complain about being tired? If so, it’s time to reassess their needs.
Talk to your pediatrician if your child has an age appropriate sleep schedule but still seems chronically tired. They can refer you to a sleep medicine specialist to determine if an underlying medical condition is impacting the quality of their sleep.
Ideally, children should go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day. Try to avoid scheduling activities that get in the way of your child’s regular bedtime, and don’t let them sleep in on the weekends by more than an hour. A bit more sleep on Saturday or Sunday morning can help your child stay rested, but sleeping until noon will throw off their internal clock and make getting up early on Monday much more difficult.
To determine your child’s ideal bedtime, do the math backwards.
If they need to be up by 7:00 am and require 11 hours of sleep, they should be asleep by 8:00 pm. If your child’s schedule needs adjusting, start a few weeks before classes begin. Move their “summer bedtime” earlier by 15 minutes every night until they’re going to bed at the appropriate "school year" time. Remember to also use the morning wake up time to re-set their schedule. If necessary, wake them up 15 minutes earlier, too.
To maximize your child’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, make sure their bedroom is dark, cool and quiet.
Darkness triggers the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us drowsy. To support that process, dim the lights an hour before bedtime. Turn off televisions, computers, and other electronics that emit blue light, which is especially disruptive to sleep. Make sure that your child’s room is as dark as possible when it’s time for lights out. If they aren’t comfortable with total darkness use a night light that’s 4 watts or less.
If your child does homework on a tablet or laptop it may have a screen setting that blocks out blue light. If their device doesn’t have a built-in program there are apps that can be downloaded to shift the display colors to the less stimulating end of the color spectrum during the evening hours. Blue blocker glasses and specialty light bulbs can also reduce blue light exposure, and some smart home systems even allow you to program lighting in your home based on your family’s schedule (you can program the system to dim the lights gradually in the evening and turn the lights up gradually in the morning to help wake the family wake up.)
Temperature plays an equally important role when it comes to a good night’s sleep. Core body temperature drops naturally in preparation for sleep, so try to limit strenuous physical activity during the last few hours before lights out. Most experts agree that the ideal room temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If your home or neighborhood is noisy, a white noise machine or fan can block out sounds that may keep your child awake or disturb them during the night.
Soda, tea, coffee, and energy drinks are loaded with caffeine, a powerful stimulant that can interfere with quality sleep. Limit your child’s caffeine intake, especially after 2:00 or 3:00 pm. Some over the counter medications also contain caffeine, so ask your pediatrician for caffeine free alternatives instead.
Certain foods, on the other hand, actually promote sleep. Dairy products, grains, legumes, leafy greens, poultry, fish, fruits like bananas, peaches and apples, nuts and seeds all contain tryptophan, which converts to melatonin in the brain. Calcium rich foods also help the brain produce melatonin, and magnesium works well with calcium to help our muscles relax. Try offering your child a sleep-inducing snack about an hourbefore bedtime. Avoid spicy foods and foods high in fat and protein, which are harder to digest and can cause heartburn, reflux or gas.
Respecting your own need for sleep is a wonderful way to model the value of sleep for your child. You’re their first and most influential teacher. Doing everything you can to set a good example will not only help them to be successful in school - it will establish habits that lead to a lifetime of healthy sleep.
Sleep is important for growth and development, including cognitive performance in the classroom. Grade school and middle school children need 9 - 11 hours per night to be well rested, while teens need 8 - 10 hours per night. As you prepare for back-to-school, remember these tips to get your kids the sleep they need:
- Make sleep a priority
- Establish and maintain bedtimes
- Create a sleep-friendly environment that is dark, cool and quiet
- Limit caffeine, especially after 2pm
- Model good sleep habits