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Get Your Kids Back to a Normal Sleep Schedule for School

by Dr. Jaime Friedman, M.D., Children's Physicians Medical Group

By now you have hopefully taken your child for their back to school physical and are ready to get your child into school mode. In the midst of getting new supplies and clothes, it is also time to get your child’s sleep back on track. While pediatricians don’t recommend drastic changes to sleep schedules during the summer (see #1), many kids end up staying up later than during the school year. Here are some pointers to get everyone back into good sleep habits for school.

1. Try to keep bedtime and wake time the same all throughout the year.

Everyone has an internal clock called a circadian rhythm. This clock is set by light exposure and is regulated by our hormones. Because sleep is so important to our health, following your body’s natural clock is also important. Therefore, sleep experts recommend keeping the same bedtime and wake up time for every day of the year. Think about how awful you feel when you are jet lagged. The same thing happens to your child when they start fighting their internal clock and staying up extra late during the summer. Even if they sleep late in the morning and sleep for the same number of hours, it is still not good to make drastic changes in their sleep schedule.

2. If your child has gotten off track with sleep, it’s time to get back into routine

About 1-2 weeks before school starts, gradually have your child going to bed earlier and earlier. You can start with 15-30 minutes per night. You might also need to wake them up earlier and earlier each day so they are tired enough to fall asleep earlier that night. Make sure they stay active during the day and avoid naps. Also, it is best to have your child avoid caffeine.

3. Return to the “No Electronics at Bedtime” rule

Glowing light from TV screens, iPads and phones can shut down the hormones that help initiate sleep. Therefore, it is recommended to turn off the screens 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against TV’s in the bedroom for children of all ages. Studies show that kids with a TV in their room will have an overall decreased amount of sleep compared to their peers without a TV in the room.

4. Have consistent bedtime routines

The best way to get kids to drift off to sleep, especially for the little ones, is to have a consistent routine that is calming and relaxing. Reading, listening to music or just talking together are great ideas. This can be a nice time for you to catch up with your child and talk about how they are feeling , especially with the new school year coming up.

5. Make sure your child has a sleep-friendly environment

It’s still summer and still quite hot when kids return to school. Try having air conditioning on, or use a fan, to cool off your child’s room while they are going to sleep. It may also still be light out so close the blinds and consider black out shades if the room doesn’t get dark at your child’s bedtime.

Getting back on track early will ensure that your child will be well rested. Children who have an appropriate amount of sleep are better prepared to listen and learn. They also have less behavior problems at school. So, get your child to sleep and ready for the start of school! 

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