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Kids off schedule? 10 Tips for Back-to-School Sleep


Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD - published on 08/07/14

Practical advice that works on keeping your kids healthy and mentally sharp for the year ahead.

Sleep helps kids do well in school, improves social functioning, prevents illness and injuries, and even prevents obesity. But modern children don’t sleep enough. With touch-screens luring children to avoid bed, we have a growing epidemic of pediatric sleep deprivation. Don’t let your kids go to school sleep-deprived. Summer is ending and it’s time to get your kids on a back-to-school sleep schedule.  

Here are 10 tips for back-to-school sleep:

1) Pick your strategy: cold turkey or gradual bedtime change? I admit it—it’s just easier to go cold turkey and set a really loud alarm on the first day of school, especially for teens and tweens. The problem with this approach (besides a painful morning and sleepy child) is that your child’s body will demand catch-up sleep. Unless they start going to bed earlier, your kids will need to sleep in on the weekend. And then they will be off schedule again. If you do go cold-turkey, make a commitment to early bedtimes during the first week of school.

Gradual bedtime changes are hard to implement, but they allow your children’s circadian rhythms to adjust, and your child will have healthier, higher quality sleep. Your child will be able to enjoy the first week of school, too, instead of living in a sleep-deprived fog.

Do your kids struggle to get out of bed in the AM?  Teach them to say a morning offering when they wake up and ask God for the fortitude to get out of bed.  

2) Calculate your child’s sleep needs: Children’s sleep needs change with age, so check out this sleep chart by my colleague Dr. Kelly Ross and figure out how much sleep your child needs:

AgeHours of Sleep Needed
1-4 Weeks Old15 – 16
1-12  Months Old14 – 15
1-3   Years Old12 – 14
3-6   Years Old10 – 12
7-12 Years Old10 – 11
12-18 Years Old8 – 9

These are averages, and every child is different, so you may want to add time if your child is a sleep-lover or in a growth spurt.  

3) Set your wake-up time and bedtime: For most of us, it is easier to stick to a consistent wake-up time and harder to get to bed on time. Implement gradual changes in your wake-up time until you are at your goal wake-up time. Getting to bed on time is usually the harder challenge. Calculate your goal bedtime based on our child’s sleep needs and wake-up time, and think hard about what obstacles are in the way of bedtime.  

Schedule family prayer time in the morning and at bedtime. If your mornings are rushed, consider praying together in the car on the way to school, or over breakfast.

4) Set a bedtime for your screens, too: Screen time before bed prolongs “sleep latency,” or the time it takes to fall asleep. So your screens need a bedtime, too, at least ninety minutes before your child’s bedtime (I prefer two hours). Set an alarm on your phone or tablet for your screen’s “bedtime.” Choose a unique alarm sound, like a barking dog, so that when the dog barks the kids know it’s time for the screen to go to bed. Then pick a common spot to charge up your screens overnight–we use a basket on the kitchen counter. This makes it easier for you, as a parent, to check that all screens are off and out of kids’ bedrooms at least 90 minutes before bedtime.  

5) Write out your afternoon schedule: The trick to getting to bed on time is an afternoon schedule. If you child still has chores or homework to do, chances are you will let her stay up to finish. Most children only have about 4 hours each day between school and bedtime. This time is valuable. Have a schedule for homework, extracurriculars, practicing, bathing, and unstructured playtime.

6) Exercise

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