Back-to-School Sleep Tips For The Whole Family

It’s back-to-school time already, and that certainly does look different this year. Some of us are starting with virtual school, some are homeschooling, and some are back in the classroom, but for most, this is a transitional time.

Transitions like starting a new school year, as well as traveling or illness can disrupt sleep patterns.

toddler napping with german shepard dog

What can you do to minimize the negative effects of these transitions?

You can make sure that you and your children don’t have too much Sleep-Debt. If you and your family are practicing good sleep-hygiene (see tips below) and getting overall good quality sleep, you are actually filling up your “sleep bank,” and it can be easier to tolerate a few rough nights. With chronic suboptimal sleep and limited length of sleep, the “sleep bank” gets drained (causing Sleep-Debt), and those rough nights can cause more problems.

When I discuss the foundations of health with my patients of all ages, sleep is a major part of that foundation, along with food, movement, and stress. Sleep is often overlooked, but it is extremely important for everyone in the family.

Dr. Katie Keller, holding a child.

How much sleep do we need?

The most recent recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation are as follows:

Age rangeHours of sleep
Newborns (0-3 months)14 – 17
Infants (4-11 months)12 – 15
Toddlers (1-2 years)11 – 14
Preschoolers (3-5)10 – 13
School age children (6-13)9 – 11
Teenagers (14-17)8 – 10
Adults (18-64)7 – 9
Older adults (65+)7 – 8
data from:

Are you getting enough sleep?

With up to a 3 hour range of normal sleep times for some age groups, it can be confusing to know what is right for your child or yourself within that time span.

If your child is getting the lower end of the recommended sleep hours (naps count towards the total number), and thriving, then don’t stress about it.

If they are at the lower end and throwing more tantrums, crying more than usual, falling asleep at mealtime, or any other unusual behavior, they may need more sleep.

For us adults, if you have sub-optimal energy, mood, or focus, you may need to bump up your sleep hours as well. You should always consult with your doctor, but here are a few easy things to work on for now:

Tips to improve your sleep

1. Make adjustments in small increments.

If you feel that you or your child need to aim for an earlier bedtime, it is best to alter that time by only 15-minute increments. You would use that new earlier bedtime for 4-5 nights to get comfortable with the new schedule and then shave off another 15 minutes. This is helpful when transitioning from your summer sleep schedule to the school year sleep schedule or when approaching daylight savings changes.

2. Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends.

Our bodies have an internal clock or circadian rhythm, and our sleep quality improves when we stick to a schedule. Try to stay within an hour of normal sleep and wake times. And, try to get early morning sunlight exposure to set that rhythm. Just a quick step outside first thing in the morning will do the trick. Maybe check out the sunrise with your little ones for a few minutes.

3. Maintain a regular relaxing bedtime routine.

This should be a predictable series of events that trigger our brains to get ready for sleep. Soak in the tub, brush teeth, 2 books, and 1 song. Or for adults, you could add a soothing foot soak with Epsom salts to your nightly routine to help wind down and let your brain know it’s time for rest. Whatever routine you choose, keep it regular, and you will see the benefits.

4. Keep the lights low.

In the hours leading up to bedtime, lights should be low. If we are exposed to bright lights in the evening, it suppresses our melatonin production and makes it harder to fall asleep, for both children and adults. Use dimmers on the overhead lights, or a soft lamp. Limit screen time in the evening, or at least turn the night setting on. Consider wearing blue light blocking glasses in the evening.

5. Create a sleep-conducive environment.

The bedroom should be dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool. Make sure the temperature is not too hot, as that can disrupt sleep. If noise is an issue, you can use a white noise machine. Blackout curtains help keep outdoor ambient light from disrupting our melatonin. Make sure your child’s and your own bed are comfortable. Invest in a good bed. We spend about a 1/3 of our entire life in it! I’ll talk more about healthy mattresses in a later post.

6. Lastly, Exercise!

Children and adults need regular activity and movement. Make sure that you and your children are doing something active every day, so your bodies are worn out and ready for sleep. Go for a walk, dance, run around in circles… anything to get those bodies moving!

Sleep well. 🙂

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