How to Get Back on School Sleep Schedule

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Every summer I vow to avoid late nights no matter what, and every summer a few late nights occur anyway. It’s hard to sleep when the sun is still high in the sky. It’s hard to sleep when the sounds of laughter and endless days drift through the window screens. It’s even hard to sleep when the fireflies light the sky and the moon jellies light the ocean … just knowing these things are happening right around the corner can make it hard to settle the brain into a restful night.

Like many families, we stretch and bend a little bit here and there. We watch the sun fall into the water. We ride bikes through the dusk, before night envelops us. We read until our eyes can no longer stay open and we whisper stories by flashlight simply because we can.

And then school comes crashing in like a tidal wave.

Suddenly and without warning, it seems, it’s time to get back into school mode.

One day we wake up and there’s little time to waste. And that begins with getting back into a solid sleep routine.

School age children need 9-11 hours of sleep each night. Adequate sleep is crucial for young children. It protects against illness. It helps them learn and grow. It reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. It provides focus, attention, and improved mood. Yes, sleep is essential for children.

Kids need a consistent bedtime schedule and a soothing bedtime environment to log enough hours of sleep each night. No matter how many days of summer you have left on that calendar, it’s time to get back to sleep. It can be hard to dial back the fun (especially when you feel like you’re the only family on the block), but you’ll be glad you did when that first week back feels just a little too easy.

Talk about it.

I can’t tell you how many people ask for “tricks” to get kids to sleep more. The truth is you can’t trick your kids into getting more sleep, but you can educate them and empower them.

{ MORE: All the Fun Things to Do with Your Kids Before School Starts }

Teach your kids about the importance of sleep. Talk about the mind-body connection and how lack of sleep impacts them. When my daughter is low on sleep, she’s cranky and anxious and sticks to me like glue. When my son is low on sleep, he drops things, takes more falls, and feels overwhelmed. In this house, we make those connections and talk about the importance of sleep.

Create a bedtime routine together.

Parents often think they know best when it comes to creating a bedtime routine that works, but I find that kids know what they need. Many kids have trouble settling down at night and seek 1:1 time with their parents before bed. Factor in an extra 10-15 minutes for time to cuddle, chat and connect after you get through the rest of the routine.

Ask your kids what kinds of things might help them ease into sleep. I always use guided imagery with one of my kids and the other has a certain routine to follow before the lights go out. We do what works for them.

Ease into an earlier bedtime.

If your kids have been up late more often than not, suddenly imposing a very early bedtime will be difficult. Try putting them to bed ten minutes earlier every three days to make the transition a little easier.

{ MORE: How to Get Kids Excited About Back to School }

Consider ways to make the room dark and cool as long summer nights continue for a little bit longer. Continuous calming music or white noise can block out some of the street noise if your little one has difficulty filtering out the sounds from outside.

Get plenty of exercise and eat nutritious meals.

Summer days can be lazy and ice cream sometimes becomes a summer staple, but healthy food choices and adequate exercise factor into getting to sleep on time.

Get plenty of outdoor playtime during the daylight hours and make sure the kids are eating more fruits and veggies than ice cream sandwiches. When we care for the whole child, the rest falls into place.

What do you think?

How to Get Back on School Sleep Schedule

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about helping parents enjoy the ride, she provides parent education and simple strategies to take t ... More

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