August 9, 2022

5 Back-to-School Sleep Tips for Kids

Don’t wait until the night before school starts to begin the shift to an earlier bedtime

Child in bed at night sleeping ZZZs.

Mention the word “bedtime” in the summer and you’re sure to hear groans from your kids — especially if they’ve spent the last few months staying up late and sleeping until noon.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

When it’s time to go back to school, though, getting back into healthy sleep patterns is a necessity for having the right amount of focus and energy in the classroom.

How much sleep does my child need?

Kids need more sleep than grown-ups do. While adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night, the National Sleep Foundation and American Academy of Sleep Medicine say kids ages 5-12 need nine to 12 hours of sleep. Teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep to function at their best.

Back-to-school bedtime routines

We asked two pediatric sleep specialists to share their best tips for getting back into proper school-year sleep routines. If your kids have lapsed into a “late to bed, late to rise” schedule this summer, here’s where to start.

1. Don’t make the transition overnight

When are you reading this? Hopefully, tomorrow isn’t the first day of school! If you still have a couple weeks until that morning bell rings, it’s time to work on transitioning your kids’ bedtime and wake-up time.

“If your child’s sleep schedule needs to be shifted, that shift should be slow,” advises pediatric sleep specialist Brian Chen, MD.

Transitioning kids’ sleep schedules too quickly can cause sleep deprivation, which can, in turn, lead to in-school sleepiness, decreased attention span, poor academic and sports performances, and more.

“If you’ve ever had jetlag, you can relate to the feeling of trying to adjust your sleep schedule,” says pediatric sleep specialist Vaishal Shah, MD. “You’re sleeping at the wrong times, your mind is foggy, it’s difficult to wake up and you don’t feel sharp.”

2. Go 15 minutes at a time

Here’s another reason to start in advance: It could take a while. “Adjusting your kids’ wake-up time by two hours could take one to two weeks,” Dr. Shah says, “so it’s not a good idea to wait until the day before school starts to make changes.”

A few weeks before school begins, start shifting your kids’ wake time earlier by 15 minutes every two to three days. Then, calculate the correct bedtime based on the amount of sleep they need.

Advertisement

3. Wind down an hour before bedtime

In the summer, kids may stay up late and pass out exhausted after long, fun, sun-soaked days. During the school year, though, it’s important to stick to more consistent bedtime/wake-up routines.

Start unwinding before kids even climb into bed. “The last one hour before bedtime should be relatively quiet and calming,” Dr. Shah advises. That means no exercise, no caffeine, no TV and no cell phones.

This is a good tip to follow during the school year, too, but it can be especially tough to enforce it after a summer of lax rules — yet another reason why a slow transition is the best transition.

4. Provide optimal sleeping conditions

Darkness signals to kids’ bodies that it’s time to sleep. It also allows their natural melatonin levels to rise, which helps them fall (and stay) asleep. In the early weeks of the school year, though, the sun may still be up when their bedtime approaches.

To mimic nighttime, use heavy drapes that darken your child’s bedroom. “A dark, quiet and somewhat cool room can help kids fall asleep at the right time,” Dr. Chen notes.

5. No sleep aids for kids

You may be accustomed to taking melatonin before bed or using a light therapy lamp in the morning. But what works for adults isn’t always recommended for kids. While these tools can help children who have significant sleep issues, they should only be used under a doctor’s supervision.

“These are very powerful tools that should only be used under the care of a sleep doctor or a physician,” Dr. Chen cautions. “Using them incorrectly can make kids’ sleep issues much more complicated than they have to be.”

Take sleep deprivation seriously

Sleep-deprived brains are brains that struggle, period — and this is especially true in kids, who are still growing and developing both physically and emotionally. They need enough sleep to pay attention in school and keep their energy high throughout the day.

Sleep problems contribute to issues like:

Advertisement
  • Lack of energy.
  • Low pain tolerance.
  • Changes in hormone levels.
  • A decline in learning and critical thinking.

They can also make chronic diseases harder to treat.

“I liken it to cigarette smoking,” Dr. Shah says. “Smoking one cigarette does not kill a person, but long-term smoking significantly affects people’s health. If you don’t get enough sleep for a long enough period of time, it begins to take a toll on your health.”

Keep an eye on kids’ wake-up habits

If your child has a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, they may not be getting the right amount of sleep. Or they may not be sleeping very well, even when they’re asleep.

“The best thing you can do to get kids to wake up refreshed and ready to go is to make sure they get a good night’s rest,” Dr. Chen says. “If they’re getting the recommended number of hours of sleep but still have difficulty waking up, that could be a sign that there’s something going on with their sleep quality.”

What to do if your kid is sleeping in class

Just as healthy adults shouldn’t be falling asleep in the middle of meetings at work, neither should healthy kids be catching ZZZs in the classroom.

“If your child is falling asleep in school, it’s important to assess why it’s happening,” Dr. Chen advises. “It could be because they’re not getting enough sleep at night, or there could be an issue with the quality of their sleep.”

Either way, it’s worth speaking about with a doctor. Start with your pediatrician or family physician, who’ll help assess your child’s sleep issues and decide next steps.

Related Articles

Child sleeping in bed holding teddy bear.
September 15, 2022
How Much Sleep Your Kids Need: Recommendations by Age

From newborn through their teen years, your child’s sleep needs will change

Person asleep in a chair with an eyemask on and a blanket over their lap
March 16, 2022
How Long Should You Nap?

Not too little, not too much

Mom rocking her baby to sleep in rocking chair
March 14, 2019
The 6 Best Ways to Make Your Baby Tired (and 3 Things NOT to Do)

Pediatrician-approved sleep tips

Sad, exhausted parent holding newborn in cage surrounded by drug addiction possibilities
February 15, 2024
Can Babies Be Born Dependent on Drugs?

Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, or NOWS, can develop when a birthing parent uses opioids, nonmedical drugs or even some prescription drugs during pregnancy

Baby in onesie asleep on back
February 12, 2024
When Can I Put My Baby To Sleep on Their Stomach?

Your baby needs to able to roll in both directions before they can make the switch

parent holding baby at a doctor's appointment
February 8, 2024
How Many Bones Do Babies Have?

Surprise: A lot more than adults!

Child hiding behind grandmother and a stranger at a park
January 31, 2024
How To Teach Your Kids About ‘Stranger Danger’ (Without Scaring the Daylights Out of Them)

It’s never too early to teach your kids who strangers are and how to avoid unsafe situations

Sad teenager holding smartphone with various chat bubbles in background
January 29, 2024
How To Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Body Image

Foster communication about social media, encourage whole-person attributes and be mindful of your own negative self-talk

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery

Ad