Back-to-School Bedtimes

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After a fun-filled summer of late nights and even later wake up times, what's a parent to do? We caught up with Mark Stephens, MD, pediatric medicine at AdventHealth, to give us some tips.

Children need much more sleep than adults as its crucial to their brain and body development, he explains. Children who sleep longer have been found to perform better in class and are also more likely to be a healthy weight.

Start early
It is no surprise that long summer vacation breaks often gets kids out of their sleep routine. So naturally the first step is getting them back into their pre-vacation daily routine, and starting the back-to-school schedule early is as important as the routine itself. Researchers have suggested starting this process two to three weeks prior to the start of school, which provides sufficient time to re-orient them back to the school-day schedule.

Get back into routine
I think one of the biggest myths out there is that kids will just go to sleep when they're tired and that they don't need a fixed bedtime. This is like assuming that children will stop eating ice cream when they're full! Having a predictable routine is essential for every family. The odd late night aside, the routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time is even more important for kids.

Reinforce the routine and articulate the rules
As important as it is to get back to the normal routine, its just as important to stick to those routines. After returning, remind kids of their bedtime routine and stick to it strictly especially for the first week or two after vacation. Use positive language not just about the vacation, but also about how nice it is to be home. Isn't it great to be back in your own bed with your animals? Additionally, the adults in the house need to be on the same page so everyone can enforce the rules and routine. Explain to kids (even the little ones can understand) that their vacation was a special treat, and now that were home, everyone is expected to return to the house rules. Write down the rules and routine to remind older kids.

Clear your schedule
Its common practice in our clinic to remind families not to plan any activities late in the day for the first several days after returning from vacation. The goal is to keep life as simple as possible and stay close to home. This enables the evening routine to be calm and gets kids ready to go to bed on time.

Time your meals
We have longed known that when you eat affects your internal clock. So as best as possible, aim to eat at the same time daily to steady your internal clock and regulate your sleep. Also, avoid sugary drinks and juice at least two hours before bedtime, as these can make kids hyper.

Give extra attention
While not strictly scientific or linked to sleep issues per se, I do think that kids get used to having more of our attention when were on vacation. Of course that changes when we return and our jobs and daily lives limit the amount and the quality of time we spend with the little ones as compared to when we were away.

As a result, some kids may seek that extra time with their parents during the night or at even at bedtime. Therefore, it may benefit the entire household if parents can try to pay a little extra attention to the kids in the daytime if possible or plan some special time for the weekend and discuss that with their kids during the week so they have something to look forward to.

Use light and dark to reset your body clock
Our bodies needs light in the morning to set our bodies on to alert mode, so soaking up the morning sunshine upon awakening is definitely beneficial. The opposite is true in the evening; we should aim to dim the lights at home at least an hour before bed, and switch off all the TVs and laptops. There is vast research data that show that electronics in bed emit a type of blue light that can trick our brain into thinking its daytime. So be sure to avoid using your smartphones and tablets in bed.

Expect some setbacks
Try to manage your own expectations as the parent. As kids adjust to life at home again, they may wake during the night or very early in the morning. If you as the parent suffer from jet lag, assume your kids are suffering even more. While these disruptions may be frustrating, its normal and kids take a few days to a couple of weeks get back on track.

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