Back to School: Adjusting to a New Sleep Schedule

boy sleeping in school

Most kids see the summer months as a time to stay up later and sleep in longer. As the weeks pass, their bodies adjust to this new routine, and by the end of the break, it becomes the norm.

Similarly, once it’s time to go back to school, kids need to acclimate to earlier bedtimes and mornings. Pauline Bridgeman, MD, a general internist and pediatrician with MU Health Care, said it’s helpful to begin this adjustment process before summer vacation ends.

Pauline Bridgeman, MD
Pauline Bridgeman, MD

“Many parents let their kids stay up late all summer long and then face an uphill battle once school resumes,” Bridgeman said. “Instead, consider building in a weeklong buffer toward the end of the summer where you adjust your kids’ bedtimes and wakeup times in 15- to 30-minute increments every other day.”

Bridgeman said school-aged kids need nine to 11 hours of sleep every night, and a lack of sleep could lead to issues in the classroom.

“Sleep helps kids absorb and retain what they learn at school while keeping them healthy, energetic and less prone to emotional and behavioral issues,” she said.

To find an ideal bedtime, Bridgeman said parents should start by identifying what time they need to wake their kids to have an unrushed morning. From there, they should calculate backward nine to 11 hours.

Bridgeman offered the following tips to ensure a smooth transition to a new sleep schedule:

  • Move dinner to earlier in the evening, and do not serve any caffeinated foods or beverages during or after the meal.
  • Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The light emitted from the screen signals to the brain that it’s daytime.
  • Do not “hang out” in bed. Teach the brain that beds are only for sleeping.
  • Keep bedrooms cool, quiet and dark so they settle the body and mind.
  • Be patient. At first, earlier bedtimes and wakeups will not be easy. It might take several nights for kids to adjust.

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