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8 back-to-school sleep strategies

The lazy days of summer are dwindling, and a new school year will soon be upon us. One of the best ways to set your children up for success is by making sure they get adequate sleep.

So, how can you help your kiddos transition from their summer sleep schedule (or lack thereof) to a consistent back-to-school sleep routine? Here are 8 tips to make the transition easier on you and your family.

Know how much sleep kids need

Research shows that children who get the recommended hours of sleep on a regular basis have better mental and physical health. They also display better attention, behavior, learning, memory and emotional regulation.

How much sleep is enough? It depends on your child’s age. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends:

  • Infants (4-12 months old): 12-16 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years old): 11-14 hours
  • Pre-schoolers (3-5 years old): 10-13 hours
  • School-age (6-12 years old): 9-12 hours
  • Teens (13-18 years old): 8-10 hours

These numbers reflect total sleep hours per day (24 hours) including naps.

Start the back-to-school transition early

In the days leading up to the start of school, work with your child to return to a school-appropriate sleep schedule. Every night, set an earlier bedtime (around 15 to 30 minutes at a time over the course of a few days or a week) and every morning, set an earlier wake-up time. Make sure that when school starts, they'll wake up with the amount of sleep they need for their age group.

Establish a relaxing bedtime routine

Before bedtime, start with "quiet time" to allow your child to unwind. The routine should include relaxing activities, such as a warm bath and a bedtime story for younger children or reading time for older children.

Be consistent

Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends and vacations. Also, don't use weekends to "catch up on sleep."

Limit screen time before bed

Avoid television, video games and other electronic distractions at least one hour before bedtime. The bright light given off by electronic devices can signal to the body that it should be awake and alert.

Say no to caffeine

Limit sodas and other caffeinated drinks after noon (12 p.m.) and especially at night. A good rule of thumb is to avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime, as caffeine can interrupt your child's natural sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep.

Create a peaceful bedroom environment

Keep your child’s room dark and at a comfortable temperature—not too hot or cold. Use their bed for sleep only and store toys elsewhere (a stuffed animal and blanket are fine in bed). Move electronic distractions to a different room. Try adding white noise.

Practice what you preach

Set a positive example for your children and use these tips for your bedtime routine, too. Kids will be more likely to cooperate if your back-to-school sleep schedule applies to the whole family.

It’s never too early to start using these sleep strategies. The more practice your children have now, the easier the first day of school will be.

If sleep is a struggle for your child, talk to their primary care provider. Well-child visits are a perfect time to discuss age-appropriate concerns, including sleep challenges, eating habits, behavior and school progress.

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