One of the most important plans you can make for your kids as they head back to school is to get them on a sound sleep schedule. After all, better grades may depend on better sleep.
By Wyatt Myers
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
As your children head back to school, you may face a dilemma when it comes to kids and sleep. All summer long, your kids have probably been staying up a little later at night — and sleeping in a little longer in the morning. So when back-to-school time rolls around, they may find themselves sleep-deprived.
“In an ideal world, all children would be on a sleep schedule throughout the week, month, and year — to bed at the same time, rise at the same time, all year round,” says Kristen Hedger Archbold, RN, PhD, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Arizona who works closely with children. “But for the school-aged child, staying up late in summer months is common. After all, there is much more to do outside and much more daylight during which to do it!”
The only problem with this is that kids need a lot of sleep — a lot more than mom and dad. In fact, for children ages 6 to 11, 10 to 11 hours a night are recommended. And children ages 12 to 18 need at least nine hours.
Kids and Sleep: The Problems of Deprivation
When a child’s schedule switches back to school, quite a few kids don’t get the sleep they need. “Children are not getting enough sleep these days,” says John Turner, MD, a sleep disorder specialist at Park Plaza Hospital in Houston. “This has been worse since technology [and media consumption] has become so pervasive.” And the problem has led to some very real concerns for children who are sleep-deprived.
Lack of sleep can impact their ability to learn in the classroom, says Dr. Turner. In fact, it might very well be true that better sleep leads to better grades. “Children often try to compensate for sleep deprivation by becoming more active and fidgety in an attempt to remain alert,” says Turner. “This often results in sleep-deprived children being disruptive in the classroom and not performing to their academic potential.”
Sure-Fire Strategies for Sound Sleep
Are your kids having trouble getting back into the back-to-school sleeping schedule? These simple steps will ensure proper shut-eye.
There are several strategies you can use when it comes to kids and sleep to get them back on track for back to school. Here’s how to get your kids on a sleep schedule:
Start early. Since summer break often gets kids out of their sleep routine, Archbold recommends starting the back-to-school schedule early to get them back into it. “About three weeks prior to the start of school, children should be re-oriented to the ‘school-day’ schedule,” she says.
Set the time. If your household’s standard rising time is 6 to 6:30 a.m., that means the bedtime for most school-age and teenage children will be 8 p.m. Do your best to stick to this.
Turn off electronics. To help your kids wind down, all electronics — TV, video games, computers, and cell phones — should be shut off an hour earlier. “In addition, all electronic distractions should be removed from the child's room and from his or her access at night,” says Turner. “This cannot be emphasized enough, as very commonly, children will stay awake well beyond what parents realize.”
Reserve their bed for sleeping. While reading is great, Kyle P. Johnson, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Oregon Health and Science University Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, suggests having kids read in a separate chair or bean bag, so that the bed is used only for sleeping.
Nix any caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep kids up at night. “It is best that children don't consume caffeine,” says Turner. “If they do, however, it should not occur after lunchtime.”
Set the mood. Another way to promote good sleep is to think about the room itself. “Nightlights are okay, but otherwise, you should keep the room dark, cool, and quiet,” says Aneesa M. Das, MD, a sleep expert at the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus.
Set the rules. Kids will try to push the envelope, so Dr. Das says it’s best to stick to your guns about the sleep schedule. “Be sure to set clear limits,” she says. “For example, make clear the number of stories to be read, the time for lights out, and acceptable reasons to call for parents. Let them know what the rules are, and stick with them.”
Practice what you preach. Of course, one of the best ways to get your kids to adopt good sleep habits is to follow them yourself. “The best way to get kids to stick with the program is for parents to do it, too,” says Archbold. “Call it the ‘back-to-school sleep plan,’ and everyone participates.”
Set next summer’s hours. When summer rolls around, do your best to stay close to the scheduled school sleep time to make the transition easier on yourself and your family. “The brain does not know it is on summer vacation,” says Archbold.
These strategies will work to get your child prepared for school and also help you as the school year rolls around.