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How To Get Your Kids on a Back to School Sleep Schedule

How to go from lazy summer slumber to ready for school bells

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Summer is the season of late nights and no alarm clocks. But after two months of blissful, routine-free life, the first week of school can be a rude awakening for kids and parents alike. “One-third of the general population does not get enough sleep,” says Sameh Morkous, MD, Pediatric Sleep Medicine specialist with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital.

The key to easing back into normalcy without feeling exhausted is to establish a sleep schedule ahead of school starting. Here are Morkous’ sleep tips for how to give your kids a healthy start to school. (Bonus: you’ll benefit from this just as much as your kids!)

How many hours of sleep does your child need

Making sure your child gets enough sleep is critical for overall health. “Children that do not get enough sleep may suffer from physical, mental and behavioral issues,” says Morkous. You will be surprised by how much sleep your child needs.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the following sleep amounts are appropriate for different age groups:

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

Recommended: 10-13 hours:

  • 8-9 hours (Not less than 8 hours)
  • 14 hours (Not more than 14 hours)

School-aged Children (6-13 years)

Recommended: 9-11 hours:

  • 7-8 hours (Not less than 7 hours)
  • 12 hours (Not more than 12 hours)

Teenagers (14-17 years)

Recommended: 8-10 hours:

  • 7 hours (Not less than 7 hours)
  • 11 hours (Not more than 11 hours)

While your child may fall slightly above or below the suggested range, it’s important to set a specific ‘sleep goal’ for your child and, here comes the important part, stick with it.

How to create a healthy pre-bedtime routine

A 2014 National Sleep Foundation study found that children slept better when parents helped implement a healthy bedtime routine and sleep schedule. According to Morkous, there are 4 keys to a healthy bedtime routine:

  • Disconnect electronics. “Ideally, you shouldn’t be sleeping with a phone beside you. In addition you should put away electronics and get the screens off at least an hour before bedtime ”
  • Focus on relaxing. “Spend the last hour before bed calm activities, like reading.”
  • Set a cool room temperature. “People tend to sleep better in cooler environments. We suggest between 60-67 degrees.” (https://www.sleep.org/articles/temperature-for-sleep/)
  • Limit snacks after dinner. "Adolescents, many of whom have control over their diet for the first time, are prone to eating and drinking on an ersatz schedule, as a means to self-regulate, or to stay awake, or just because they can," Morkous says. "But the bag of chips, or the cookies at 1 a.m., or caffeine any time after dinner—whether or not they help get the essay written—can postpone sleep, and harmfully." The Child Mind Institute ( https://www.ajc.com/lifestyles/parenting/cruel-biology-why-teens-cannot-get-enough-sleep-the-school-year/ )

Head to bed earlier 4-6 weeks before school starts

Unfortunately, it takes some time to properly adjust from a summer to school sleep schedule. Allowing 4-6 weeks to make the transition will make it more gradual and less jarring.

“The earlier you start the better,” says Morkous. “The goal is to adjust your bedtime in small increments to achieve a specific number of hours per sleep each night.”

He suggests going to bed and waking up 15 minutes earlier every 3-7 days (with a goal of 30 minutes per week.)

So for example, if your teen has been staying up until 1 a.m. and waking up at 10 a.m. every day this summer, the first night should look like 12:45 a.m. - 9:45 a.m., and by the end of Week 1, it will be at 12:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m.

“You eventually want to target your child wake up time to match the wake up time for the school,” says Morkous. “The ultimate goal is to try to achieve the recommended sleep time for each age while you are maintaining the desired wake up time to be ready for school.”

No need to travel far — the team of experts at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital are here to partner with you in your child’s health. Go to lvhn.org/children to learn more.

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