Can you believe that we’re halfway through August? And that means back to school preparations are in full swing for parents and kids. So much to do: school supplies, clothes shopping, haircuts, rearranging schedules and so on.
But the best way to start your child off right, is by ensuring they are well rested before school starts. And I have 6 back to school sleep tips that will ensure that your preschooler to senior, is back on track, sleep wise at least.
I know... I’m a child sleep consultant and you may think that I’m going to brow beat you for the late bedtimes, inconsistent schedules, or any of the many “unadvisables” that may have happened over your summer vacation.
Heck no! I’m a mother myself and I know how fleeting these summer months are. You want to squeeze every minute of joy and togetherness you can from these glorious days. If it’s a choice between consistent bedtimes and staying up to watch the fireworks, I mean c’mon. That’s no choice at all. Even my own kiddo got to stay up on occasion to chase the fireflies and watch fireworks.
So, no matter what may have happened over the summer, those memories will last a lifetime. Now, the mission is to get your child back on track so that they can get back to sleep at a reasonable hour before they head back to school.
Now, let’s get to those sleep tips I promised!
Set a bedtime and stick to it.
What time should your kids be going to bed? Well, a lot of parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 at night.
They’re even more surprised when I tell them that I suggest they keep that bedtime until their child is about 12 years old.
There are two reasons why I think kids should be in bed and sleeping, by 8:00 at night.
First, kids need at least 10 hours of sleep a night until age 13.
An extra hour or two on top of that is never a bad thing, but you obviously have to make those adjustments based on your own observations.
Regardless, if your child needs to be up by 7:00 A.M. in order to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9:00 at the latest. Now, factoring in the time it takes them to actually fall asleep after they get into bed, plus the inevitable request for water or a totally bogus insistence that they need to use the bathroom half an hour after you close their door, and 8:00 is pretty much the latest they can get to bed and still get the sleep they need.
Second, you, as a parent, need to exist child-free for a few hours a day. You need to be able to watch TV with swear words and sexual innuendo, to be able to eat some junk food without fear of being spotted or just do grown-up things and recharge those parenting batteries. It’s vital to your relationship with your partner and with your kids as well.
Alright, so now that we know when to put our kids to bed, let’s move on to the significantly more difficult issue of how.
Don’t leave it to the last minute.
Hopefully you’re reading this while there’s still a couple of weeks before school starts, because the easiest way to get back on track is little by little.
If they’ve been going to bed at around 9:00 for the better part of their vacation, try moving bedtime up by about 15 minutes every 3-4 days until you’re back to their normal bedtime. If this requires a little deception on your part by adjusting the clocks in their room, you just go ahead and get deceptive. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means.
Establish a bedtime routine.
If you had an effective bedtime routine before summer vacation threw everything into upheaval, then try to re-implement it as much as possible. Familiarity will definitely help your child settle back into the schedule quicker and with less resistance than trying out something new.
On the other hand, if this is your first go at implementing a bedtime routine, let me just stress how much easier a repetitive, predictable bedtime routine can make everyone’s life. When your child’s body and brain start to associate things like baths, stories, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it cues up their melatonin production, making sleep come easier. I seriously can’t recommend bedtime routines highly enough.
Use a timer.
Of course, things like baths and stories are super fun, so there is a tendency for your child to try and negotiate for more time in the tub, or one more story. If you find yourself constantly having to play sheriff, a timer can be your best friend for keeping things on schedule, and as silly as it may sound, takes the blame off of you and puts it on the timer. Mom can be reasoned with, but the timer never changes its mind.
Turn off those screens.
Along with the sliding of bedtimes during the summer, we also tend to ease up on the rules surrounding TV, video games, or otherwise staring at screens in the hours leading up to bedtime. After all, there’s no homework to be done, so maybe we may allow a little leeway for an extra episode of Teen Titans. (Which, quite honestly, is as enticing for me as it is for my kid.)
The thing about screens, whether they’re phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they put out a massive amount of blue light. Our brains associate blue light with sunshine, and therefore daytime, so screens before bed can actually have the unwanted effect of firing your kid’s system back up when it should be powering down.
Try to avoid any screen time for at least two hours before bed. For kids with their own electronics, it’s best to keep them out of the bedroom and leave them charging in the kitchen or living room to remove temptation. (Side note, this also applies to adults, so if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try reading instead of watching TV before you turn in.)
Embrace the dark side.
And while we’re on the subject of light, for many of you living in the northern areas of the planet, you may notice that it doesn’t get dark until significantly later than 8:00, and the only thing that simulates sunlight better than a TV screen is... y’know, actual sunlight. If your child’s bedroom is still lit up when you’re putting them to bed, I suggest investing in a blackout window covering. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can use some heavy-duty aluminum foil or a couple trash bags and painters’ tape. If you’re concerned about aesthetics, I highly recommend getting Blackout EZ window coverings. They provide 100 blackout, won’t damage your walls or windows, can be adjusted daily to let light in during the day and are just as affordable as blackout drapes or blinds, which we all know, don’t block out all the light. Whichever way you choose, get that sunlight out of the bedroom. It’ll make a world of difference, I promise.
One final thing to add here: Having experienced some leniency regarding bedtime can suddenly transform your child into an astoundingly sharp negotiator. Arguments for why they should be allowed to stay up later are likely to be heard for at least a few days and, potentially, the next eight or ten years. Luckily, parenting is not a democracy. It is a glorious dictatorship where you, the parent, make the rules. Don’t give in to the pressure. The sooner they accept that as the norm and their summertime hours as a special circumstance, the easier this whole bedtime thing will be for you and for them.
I hope you had yourselves a wonderful summer vacation, and that you and your child is looking forward to starting school again. I promise you that, no matter what grade they’re headed into, nothing will help them go into the new school year with a better attitude and positive outlook than getting plenty of sleep. They’ll be happier, more socially outgoing, and ready to learn.
And if this is your first experience with the kids out of the house since you became a parent, oh baby, let me tell you about the sweet days ahead. (Once you’ve gotten over the initial heartbreak, of course.)
If nothing has worked and you need help getting your scholar on a predictable schedule and sleeping well, contact me at to set-up a free 15-minute child sleep evaluation today.
Life is hard when you're not sleeping. As a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I teach families how to live a well-rested life.