Written by: Reneé Prince
Updated March 12, 2021
Going back to school is daunting for many reasons. For parents, one of the most difficult adjustments may be re-establishing a bedtime routine and earlier bedtimes for their children.
Up to one in four school-aged children (1) suffer from bedtime problems or night wakings, and three in four teens (2) don't get the sleep they need on school nights. Kids thrive on predictability, so one of the best ways to help them get better sleep is to establish clear limits and routines.
Why Is It Important to Set a Bedtime Schedule?
Keeping a consistent bedtime schedule establishes a rhythm that makes it easier for your child to get the recommended amount of sleep for their age. Research shows that teens who have a parent-set bedtime get around 20 more minutes of sleep per night (3).
How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?
The National Sleep Foundation (4) guidelines state that school-age children should obtain between nine and 11 hours of sleep per night, and adolescents should obtain between eight and 10 hours of sleep per night. Between school, homework, socializing, and extracurricular activities, getting enough sleep isn't always easy, but prioritizing sleep will pay off in the long run.
Sleep is an important building block for young children and teens. Poor sleep in children has been associated with daytime sleepiness (5), behavioral issues (6), and worse academic performance (7). For teens in particular, insufficient sleep can raise the risk of anxiety and depression. Daytime sleepiness may also be dangerous for teens who are learning to drive (8).
What Are Some Tips for Adjusting Back-to-School Bedtimes?
The kids have probably enjoyed lax bedtimes over the summer holidays, so try to smooth the transition back to school by adjusting bedtimes in smaller increments. Starting a few weeks before school, you can move their bedtimes earlier by 15 minutes every few nights. If your child can't fall asleep after 20 minutes, have them come out of the bedroom and do a calming activity until they are sleepy enough to try again.
To find the perfect bedtime for your child, count backwards from the time they'll need to wake up for school. For example, if you're setting the alarm for 7:30 a.m. and your child needs 10 hours of sleep, they should be going to bed by 9:30 p.m.
Can I Let My Child Sleep In on Weekends?
Sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday can disrupt the body clock and make it harder to fall asleep on Sunday night. Although this is a common way for schoolchildren to catch up on the sleep they missed during the week, it's actually best to avoid this practice and stick to reasonable bedtimes on weekdays and weekends alike.
Due to their naturally later biological rhythm, teenagers might have a tough time falling asleep early (9). This can pose a dilemma when school starts before 8:30 a.m. Explain to your teenager why sleep is important, and involve them in the process as you work together to find a bedtime that's fair and reasonable.
What Does A Bedtime Routine Look Like for My Child?
You can help your child wind down for bed by establishing a regular bedtime routine with calming activities that they enjoy. Your child may be more likely to follow along with the bedtime routine if you let them make a few decisions, such as which stuffed animal to take to bed.
For younger children (10), a bedtime routine might consist of having a bath, choosing pajamas, brushing teeth, and chatting or reading a bedtime story together. Older children can take a more active role in managing bedtime, perhaps doing some reading on their own or swapping out the book for a journal or other quiet activity. Bedtime routines work best when you do them every night, so try to stay consistent on weekends as well.
The start of the school year can be a whirlwind of new activities. If you notice your child is struggling to find time to sleep or showing signs of sleepiness, it might help to cut back on extracurricular activities.
What Else Can I Do to Help My Child Sleep Better?
There's a close connection between daytime habits and sleep quality (11). For better sleep, encourage your child to:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get plenty of exercise (12) during the day
- Keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark
- Avoid blue light (13) from smartphones, televisions, and computer screens in the lead-up to bedtime
- Make the bedroom a screen-free zone (14)
- Cut out energy drinks (15) and sugar in the evening
Bedtime is more fun when the whole family is on board, so try to set a good example with your own sleep habits.
Back-to-School Bedtime Routines Made Easy
More than just a routine, bedtime is a time to bond with your kids and set them up with healthy sleep habits that will last a lifetime. Easing back into the school routine can take a bit of juggling, but with careful planning the new school year should get off to a smooth start.
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