By Jennifer Larson, contributor
During the lazy days and nights of summer, it’s easy for everyone to slip out of their regular routines, including their usual sleeping habits—especially kids.
But as the new school year approaches, it’s time to start thinking about getting back to those routines. Whether you’re homeschooling your children or sending them off to school, a good night’s sleep is still critical for your children’s health and well-being, and their academic success.
Determine how much sleep your child needs
Before you start tinkering with your child’s bedtime and nighttime routine, consider how much sleep he or she needs. This will help you set a reasonable sleep schedule.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that school-aged children—that is, kids between the ages of 7 and 13 years—need between nine and 11 hours of sleep per night. Preschoolers need between 10 and 13 hours of sleep each night, plus a nap if they’ll take one.
Meanwhile, teenagers need between eight and 10 hours of sleep per night. But don’t let them fool you: Most teens aren’t getting enough sleep. Many of them don’t stick to a regular routine, and the irregularity can mess with their ability to get enough quality sleep.
Once you know how much sleep your child should be getting, you can plan their bedtime accordingly.
Make the transition from a later bedtime (and wake-up time) to an earlier one
Don’t feel guilty: Lots of parents let early bedtimes slide in the summer. When it’s 8 p.m. and the sun’s still out, it can be challenging to convince your child that it’s bedtime.
But here are some basic steps to help you re-establish a sleep schedule for your child that will help them be well-rested.
1. Give yourself some time to make the transition.
Ideally, don’t wait until the weekend before school starts to start helping your child transition back to an earlier bedtime. Give yourself at least a couple of weeks so the transition can unfold more gradually. You can even start now!
2. Adjust the bedtime over time.
Since you’ve given yourself some leeway, you can gradually adjust your child’s bedtime. If you need to move your child’s bedtime from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m., try moving bedtime ahead by 15 minutes per week for four weeks or 20 minutes for three weeks. By the time you reach the desired bedtime, your child will be accustomed to going to bed earlier.
3. Establish--or re-establish a consistent bedtime routine.
Experts say that consistency is key to getting a good night’s sleep. To help your child adjust to and stick with a consistent bedtime, set up a ritual or a routine that they can anticipate each night. For example, a bath or shower, followed by a toothbrushing session and a story (or two) before bed can be a very comforting and soothing routine that helps kids unwind. Make sure their bedroom is cool, quiet, and comfortable, which is conducive to sleeping.
4. Wake your child up at an earlier time.
This is where it gets tricky for kids who are used to sleeping late. They may resist the call of the alarm clock or even your cheerful voice telling them it’s time to wake up. But a critical part of a good sleep schedule is the wake-up time. As the days and weeks of summer wane, start gradually waking your kids up a little earlier each day, getting closer to their school year wake-up time.
Don’t give up
Some children are just “better” sleepers than others, and the transition may go more smoothly with some than others. Don’t give up if it takes a little longer, or you encounter some resistance.
If you’re still having trouble getting your child back onto a regular sleep schedule, start looking at other factors that might be roadblocks. For example, are your kids getting enough exercise or stimulation during the day? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids be active during the day, so you might want to consider boosting their activity level to see if that helps them fall asleep more easily.
Additionally, if you notice other sleep problems, like snoring, you might want to give your child’s doctor a call.
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