Tips for Back to School Sleep Routines

This post was sponsored by St. Lukes and written by Dr. Gretchen Karstens with St. Luke’s Pediatric Associates.

Every parent is familiar with the surge of panic that comes when you realize a new school year is quickly approaching. You glance at the calendar and see that there are two, maybe three weeks to get everything in order. A mental checklist begins to form in your mind, and you wonder how you’ll get everything done in time. 

Then you look at your kiddos with bare feet, dirty knees and tanned skin from being outside until the sun goes down. Just the thought of getting them back to a reasonable sleep schedule on top of everything else can be a bit overwhelming to say the least. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help this process go a bit more smoothly.

Tips for Back to School Sleep Routines | Duluth Moms Blog

Start early

Moving bedtime a few hours back is going to take a little work. The same can be said about helping them wake up at a reasonable time in the morning. Start adjusting routines two to three weeks before the first day of school. This will make the change a bit more gradual.

Go slowly

It’s difficult to adjust sleep schedules more than 15 minutes at time. If you need to move bedtime from 10 to 8 pm, it’s not going to happen easily in a weekend. Start with 9:45 pm for a few nights. Once they adjust to that, try 9:30 pm. Keep working back until they’ve reached the goal bedtime.  

Establish a wind-down routine

Around an hour before bedtime, start getting ready for sleep. This routine could include things like the following: 

  • Turning off screens (TV, cell phone, etc.) an hour before falling asleep
  • Taking a shower or a bath
  • Brushing teeth
  • Picking out clothes for tomorrow
  • Stretches 
  • Reading
  • Talking about the day 
  • Saying goodnights

A consistent routine helps the body know that bedtime is coming and makes you naturally sleepy. 

A note on teenagers: It’s common for the natural sleep onset of a teenager to get pushed back an hour or two. This means while most children get naturally tired at 9 or 10 pm, a teenager may not feel tired until 11pm or midnight. Keep this in mind and be intentional in how you help them stick to a routine. 

Wake up and stay up

Getting kids up in the morning is a bit more cut and dry than putting them to sleep. Once they’re up, they’re awake and you know it. When you put them to bed, it’s difficult to know if they’re actually asleep. To help kids be tired at bedtime, wake them up early and encourage them to stay awake during the day. This means cutting back on afternoon naps, especially if they aren’t at an age where they will be napping at school. 

Tips for Back to School Sleep Routines | Duluth Moms Blog

Encourage exercise

Working in a few stretches of physical activity during the day is a great way to help kids be ready for sleep. However, steer clear from any exercise or excitement too close to bedtime, which can have the opposite effect. 

Talk it out

During this entire process, communication is important. Explain why their sleep schedule has to change and help them think about all the exciting things that come with a new school year. 

In all of the back-to-school preparation, it’s important to remember that no one expects you to be a perfect parent. If you can’t find that red folder, it’s okay. If you didn’t sign the form on time, don’t sweat it too much. If the new routine is still pretty rough after a few weeks, know that you will all get through it sooner or later. 

So make adjustments when necessary, roll with the punches, and don’t let yourself get too worked up at all the frustrations along the way. It’s actually really healthy for your kids to see you make mistakes and struggle through things without giving up. It gives them permission to not be perfect, teaches them how to deal with their own shortcomings, and may be one of the most valuable lessons you can teach them. 

If you still have questions about how to establish a healthy sleep schedule, talk to your pediatrician. If you don’t have a pediatrician and would like to establish care at St. Luke’s, call St. Luke’s Pediatric Associates at 218.249.7870.