kids and parents

The easiest way to get your child on a back to school sleep schedule

Fond, first day of school memories come to my mind this time of year. My daughter’s picking out their perfect 1st day outfit, freshly sharpened pencils, standing in long lines at the office supply store – chatting with the other parents gathering school supplies, and helping my little one organize them in her new back pack and setting it ready to go by the front door. Yet,  I also remember the harder part of back to school –  having to adjust back to a routine schedule, including a routine sleep schedule and I’m a pediatric sleep physician!

After a summer of late nights and laid-back mornings, it’s likely that your kid could use help adjusting to the earlier bedtimes and wake-up calls.

Not only will this lead to fewer “I don’t want to get out of bed!” fights, but it’s important for your child’s learning: Even just 25 minutes of less sleep per night can lead to lower grades, and insufficient rest has also been linked to fatigue, behavioral issues and concentration problems in kids, which may be often misdiagnosed as ADHD.

How much sleep does your child need every night?

Children ages 5 – 8 need the most sleep, requiring about 9 – 11 hours every night. Children ages 9 – 12 need between 9.5 – 10 hours nightly. And teenagers 13 – 18 need between 8.5 – 9.5 hours per night.

Knowing how much sleep your child needs every night is key in establishing a proper bedtime. And it’s important to remember that the above times aren’t set in stone, but merely general guidelines. Your child will have their own individual sleep needs, and you may need to fine-tune their bedtimes a little bit until you find your child less groggy and sleepy in the mornings, and more alert and aware.

These 9 tips can help your child successfully make the switch.

1- Gradually Adjust Bedtimes.
Don’t wait until the night before school starts to adjust your child’s bedtime. The sudden change could make it difficult for him or her to fall—and stay—asleep. Instead, slowly start making his or her bedtime earlier about two weeks before the first day (try pushing it forward five to 15 minutes each day). This will help your child’s circadian rhythm adjust to the new schedule.

2- Keep a regular bedtime schedule.
It’s important to stay consistent with your children’s sleep routine once you begin the transition, and this means on weekends too. Allowing them to sleep in, or stay up late, on weekends can damage the routine you’re trying to establish.

3- Begin a relaxing bedtime routine.
If your kid doesn’t already have a set bedtime routine, now’s the time to create one, especially if your child is younger. Plus, if you repeat the same process nightly, the routine will eventually cue his or her brain and body that it’s time to sleep.

  • An hour or two of physical activity before dinnertime to help them wind down later.
  • A relaxing bath after dinner.
  • Reading a few chapters from a book with mom and dad.
  • Doing nightly prayers or singing a lullaby.
  • Having mom or dad turn off the lights and saying goodnight

4- Take Tech Out of the Bedroom.
Lax summer rules may have meant that your child was allowed to play on his or her laptop or cell phone in bed, but in order to get back on a regular sleep schedule, it’s important to keep electronics out of the bedroom, since they can lead to poor sleep. Not only can the “dings” of text messages wake your kid up, but the blue light that many devices emit may promote wakefulness (not what you want at 8:30pm!). Make a rule that all devices need to be turned off one hour before bed.

5- Create an ideal sleep environment.
Your kids should associate their bed with sleep and not other types of activities. If they enjoy relaxing in their room during the daytime, get them a beanbag chair for them to sit in as they read or play video games. That way the bed is identified strictly with sleeping. Make sure their room is cool (68-72 degrees), quiet, dimly lit, and comfortable. Try using “white noise” from a fan or a sound machine. White noise creates a consistent, rhythmic sound that can be relaxing while drowning out all other disruptive or sudden noises.

6- Limit caffeine intake.
Caffeine is a stimulant and not the best thing for kids anyway. However, if you don’t want your kids up late at night, it’s best to limit their caffeine intake after lunch, and none within three hours of bedtime.

7- Make sure they eat healthy and have regular exercise.
It’s important that your children get plenty of exercise during the day which will help them wind down quicker later at night. Healthy eating has been proven to promote quality sleep, and it’s important to feed them foods that help them stay active and alert during the day, but allow them to wind down at night. Avoid feeding your children fatty foods and processed carbs as these foods will fill them up, but don’t contain the vitamins and nutrients needed to produce energy. Foods rich in antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and protein boost their daily energy levels without being followed with a crash like sugary or caffeinated foods and beverages.

8- Speak sleep with your kids.
Kids will naturally push back, and getting them on a sleep schedule may be much more difficult than it sounds. It’s important that you talk with your kids about the reasons why they have a specified bedtime and explain how it’s meant to help them feel good while they’re at school. Also, make sure to establish clear rules. When going through their bedtime routine, set the limit for the number of stories you will read them, and what time lights out is.

9- Model good sleep habits yourself.
These tips are not only beneficial to quality sleep in kids, but in their parents as well. Practicing these sleep habits yourself will increase your own energy during the daytime as well as set a positive example for your children. Let your kids know that the “back to school sleep program” is for everybody, and that the whole family participates in it.

If you have any questions regarding your children’s sleep habits or if your kid appears to be struggling and tired in school, please schedule a consult with Dr. Shahzeidi, our board-certified, pediatric sleep medicine specialist and kids sleep guru.

Contacts us at: 703.729.3420 or email us at