Back to School: 7 Steps to a Better Bedtime Routine

The start of a new school year can be a difficult transition for both parents and children. It’s easier said than done to get kids back on a schedule. Over the summer, kids usually stay up a little later, sleep in a little more and have vacations where all rules are off the table. Now all of a sudden they need to head to bed earlier, wake up to an alarm and get to school on time.

Help make the transition easier for the whole family with these seven strategies:

  1. Know the Numbers. The amount of sleep children require varies by age. Those between the ages of three and five need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night, kids ages 6 to 13 generally require 9 to 11 hours of sleep and teenagers ages 14 to 17 need eight to 10 hours. The right amount of rest directly correlates with our ability to focus, concentrate, retain information and effectively problem solve.
  2. Adjust bedtime gradually. Instead of jumping bedtime up by an hour or two, move it forward by just 15 minutes each night. Keep going until it’s early enough that your kids are getting the recommended amount of sleep every night (nine to 11 hours a night).
  3. Take a look at what they’re eating. Your children’s summer diet may have contained more sugary snacks than usual, which could be stealing their sleep. Try cutting down on food and drink packed with sugar in the evening and, if they’re hungry before bed, give them a simple snack with a protein and carbohydrate, such as whole grain crackers and cheese.
  4. Establish a Routine. Set expectations for nighttime routines that will make mornings smoother such as showering before bed, picking out outfits or making sure backpacks and lunches are packed and ready to go. Getting things out of the way before bed allows for more sleep in the morning and less anxiety.
  5. Limit Screen Time. Summer schedules may have led to your kids using their electronics more during the evening, but it’s time to change this habit. Kids shouldn’t play with electronics for a full hour before bedtime. Not only that, remove any electronics that could be distracting from their rooms entirely.
  6. Cut the caffeine. Drinking caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and can impede on a child’s quality of sleep. It is also a catalyst to middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks and potential accidents. It is best to limit all fluid intake an hour before bed and approximately six hours prior to bedtime for caffeinated beverages.
  7. Be Consistent. While it may be difficult at first to stick to a new school schedule, it is beneficial to a child’s mental and physical well-being. Getting the kids acclimated with a new schedule early on ensures a happy, healthy start to the new school year.

For more ways to help your family adjust to back-to-school routines, check out these other posts:

About the Author: Dr. Kristyn Gregory, DO, is a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Photo credit: Gilberto Santa Rosa

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