Share The Health

5 Tips to Reset Your Child's Sleep Schedule


For many families, summer brings more flexible schedules that are often woven around picnics, ball games, vacations, and other fun activities. Traveling, staying up late, and getting out of the “school routine” means bedtimes and wake-up times are much different in the summertime compared to those during the school year. With the first day of school fast approaching, what can families do to get back into healthy bedtime and wake-up routines?

We have compiled five tips, along with the latest findings on the importance of sleep, to help families kick off the new school year with success!

The Significance of Sleep

Whether your child is a pint-sized preschooler, a beginning kindergartener, a growing tween, or a teenage middle or high schooler, let’s talk about the reasons sleep is vital to children of all ages. It is a critical component of a healthy routine: Restful sleep, along with nutrition and physical activity, determines our overall health and well-being. In children, the right amount of sleep directly influences adolescent health and development.

During sleep, even though our bodies appear to be at rest, they are actually working hard! Sleep allows our bodies to fight off infections, and helps our bodies metabolize sugar to prevent diabetes. Deep sleep triggers the release of a hormone that stimulates growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass, and it helps repair cells and tissues—not only in children, but in adults too. In a way, you can think of sleep as the time when our bodies “recharge and repair.”

Instilling healthy sleep habits is vital to a child’s success in school. When children don’t get enough sleep—even just 25 minutes less per night—it can lead to lower grades, fatigue, and trouble concentrating during school. But the most obvious symptom of a poor night’s sleep in children is displayed in their behavior, as most parents can attest. The symptoms of ADHD actually mirror the symptoms displayed by kids who are tired. Acting impulsive and distracted are two of the classic ADHD symptoms that can be displayed by kids who are simply tired.

The fresh start of a new school year is also a great time for parents to evaluate and model good sleep habits. Studies show 25% of American adults don’t get enough sleep at least 15 days out of every 30 days. Here are five tips to help families establish healthy nighttime routines, which in turn, lay the groundwork for good mornings.

1. Gear up for school: Gradually adjust bedtime and then stick to it.

A week or two before school starts, gradually adjust your child’s bedtime, moving it five to 15 minutes earlier every night, until you’ve reached the ideal bedtime. This allows everyone in the household to adjust gradually, allowing your child’s circadian rhythms to reset, rather than making a sudden and shocking change right before school starts. If you work into the new school routine gently, it will feel natural by the time the first day of school rolls around. Hopefully this will bring smiles for those first-day-of-school pictures!

While we’re talking about bedtimes, it would be helpful to know how many hours of sleep your child needs. What is the ideal amount of sleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Preschoolers (ages 3-5) need 10-13 hours
  • School-aged children (ages 6-13) need 9-11 hours
  • Teens (ages 14-17) need 8-10 hours
  • Young adults (ages 18-25) need 7-9 hours

As parents, one of the most challenging tasks is sticking to a consistent bedtime, but experts say it’s one of the most important pieces of advice they can give. Maintaining a consistent bedtime—even on weekends—allows your child’s natural circadian rhythms to follow an uninterrupted pattern. This brings healthier physical and mental functioning, as well as better behavior.

2. Set the stage: Create relaxing bedtime rituals and routines to “wind down.”

The process of preparing for bedtime can become one of your family’s favorite, cherished times together. Your family may need to plan on 30 minutes or an hour’s worth of time for your child’s routine, which can include taking a bath, drinking a glass of warm milk, simple stretching, reading books, or listening to soothing music.

The younger your child is, the more likely you need to cycle through all or most of these rituals. You can think of this time as a relaxing time to unwind, both mentally and physically. And if you repeat the same routine every night, it will cue your child’s brain and body that it’s time to sleep, establishing healthy habits. Of course, some of the best ways to end the bedtime routine is with a hug, kiss, or snuggle.

3. Turn off technology: Set a “screen bedtime,” one hour before your child’s bedtime.

Research regarding the light generated by electronic devices shows that it stimulates us, promoting wakefulness. Case in point: If your child logs two hours of screen time right before bed, it will lower their levels of melatonin, a chemical that signals their body it’s time to sleep, by 22%. According to another study, children who use computers, tablets, or phones as sleep aids have later weekday bedtimes, log fewer hours of sleep per week, and are often sleepy during the daytime.

So, the best advice for parents is to set a “screen bedtime”—a time about an hour before your child’s true bedtime, when all technology must be turned off. Bonus tip: Set recharging stations in a living room, kitchen, or common area of the house away from bedrooms, for the night. This allows devices to recharge without tempting children to check them during the night. If devices are placed in a bedroom, you or your child may wake up from the “dings” of messages and/or want to check them. This certainly doesn’t allow for restful sleep!

4. Get organized: Prepare school outfits, lunches, etc. the night before.

You may want to begin your child’s bedtime ritual with a few tasks that lay the groundwork for “smooth sailing” the next morning. These tasks might include checking homework, packing their backpack, choosing and laying out your child’s clothes and shoes together, and prepping a PB&J or other lunch items. Mornings can be hectic, especially if you have more than one child, plus a spouse preparing for work, and especially if household bathrooms are shared. But preparing for a successful start to the day, the night before, removes stress to help you avoid morning meltdowns.

5. Play hard: The more active your child is, the greater chance sleep will come naturally.

Encourage your child to play outside, not only during recess time, but also in the backyard, at the local park, or simply by walking or biking together in your neighborhood. The more active they are during the day, the faster they’re likely to fall asleep at bedtime. Research shows that when kids don’t receive enough sleep and are tired, they are more likely to be sedentary, and they burn fewer calories: This is a chain reaction of unhealthy habits.

Additionally, for every hour children are engaged in sedentary activities such as watching television, it takes them an extra three minutes to fall asleep at night. These studies are all proof that physical activity is vital to children’s healthy sleep habits and overall health.

Beyond Sleep Habits: The Educational Effects

Following the five steps above will help your child and family develop good sleep habits, contributing to overall health. But is there any research that actually links sleep with learning?

Yes, there are complex relationships between sleep, learning, and memory. While research is ongoing, it shows fascinating links between sleep and memory function. Additionally, sleeping through the night presents the best opportunity for learning and memory.

There are three basic functions within our brain that are related to learning and memory: acquisition, consolidation, and recall. While acquisition and recall happen while we’re awake, research suggests that memory consolidation—the process by which memories become stable—takes place while we’re sleeping. The studies are fascinating—showing that neural connections are strengthened during sleep in order to form our memories. And brainwaves during different stages of sleep are believed to form specific types of memories.

So, the next time you tuck your child into bed, you can rest assured you are providing your child with many healthy reasons—possibly more than you know—to succeed in this school year and beyond.