Back to school preparations include shopping for supplies, backpacks and clothing, but at the top of your list should be adjusting your child’s sleep schedule. If they’ve been staying up late and sleeping in the next morning, the first day of school will be a rude awakening if you don’t help them make the transition smoothly. You can help your children get ready for the start of the new school year by gradually adjusting their sleep schedule.
Starting about two weeks before school begins, set a slightly earlier bedtime and wake-up time. Continue to make small adjustments every evening and morning, until they wake up on time the first day of school. Use National Sleep Foundation guidelines to figure out how much sleep your child should be getting. The group recommends that preschoolers get 11 to 13 hours of sleep per night; children ages five to ten should get 10 to 11 hours, and teens should get 8.5 to 9.25 hours.
To ease your child’s transition to sleep, provide “quiet time” before they head off to bed. This can include a bath, soothing music, quiet conversation and reading. It is especially difficult for teens transitioning to High School as they will typically have earlier school times. Limiting their exposure to television, video games and other electronics before bed will be helpful. Don’t provide caffeinated drinks in the six hours before bedtime as caffeine can interrupt natural sleep patterns.
Other tips for an easier bedtime:
- Once you’ve established a sleep schedule, stick to it, even on weekends. If you let children “catch up on sleep” on the weekends, Monday mornings will be especially difficult.
- Don’t serve heavy meals close to bedtime, but allow a small snack so they don’t go to bed hungry.
- Make sure their room is dark and the temperature is cool at night. In the morning open their bedroom shades to expose them to bright sunlight.
Parents of teens are likely to have a more difficult time convincing them to go to sleep earlier. You can suggest they read, listen to relaxing music or meditate before bed. The National Sleep Foundation has more ideas for helping teens get enough sleep. This is especially tricky during the school year, since their natural sleep cycle tends to conflict with school start times.
Taking some time now to plan ahead for a healthy school year sleep schedule will pay off, with a rested child who is ready for the excitement and demands of school.
Written by New York Sleep Specialist, Dr. Anita Bhola, Medical Director The Edythe Kurz Center for Sleep Medicine at Nyack Hospital