Back to School Sleep

Boy sleeping on the books in the classroom.

Schools are opening in some capacity and whether your child is learning virtually, homeschooling, or attending in-person, making sleep a priority is critical.

So much growth and development occurs while children are sleeping because growth hormones are secreted during periods of sleep.  Sleep helps boost the immune system.  While we sleep, our bodies produce infection and stress-fighting proteins known as cytokines.  The less sleep we get, the fewer we produce and the more prone we are to infections and illness.  Sleep is a time for children’s brain to form new connections which helps them with learning and memory.

Consistent sleep and schedules have taken a backslide this spring and summer for many families, understandably.  With the start of a new school year, now is a great time to make sleep a focus.  Follow these back to school sleep tips:

1. Set a bedtime and stick to it

Children should be getting 10-12 hours of sleep at night.  In order for this to happen, it is recommended for bedtime to fall between 7-8 pm.  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. Factor in the time it takes them to fall asleep after they get into bed, plus the inevitable request for a glass of water or 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.

Children actually tend to sleep more when they go to bed earlier because they are getting more restorative sleep.  

Sufficient sleep is important for your child’s mental development and recent studies have shown that preschoolers who go to bed before 8 pm have less of a chance of becoming obese as teens (sleepfoundation.org).

Another advantage of an earlier bedtime is for parents.  You, as a parent, need to exist child-free for a few hours a day.  You need time to unwind, read a book, relax and watch some TV, or eat some junk food without fear of being spotted, to just do grown-up things and recharge those parenting batteries.  It’s vital to your relationship with your partner and with your kids.  

2.  Don’t leave it to the last minute

If your kids have been on a later bedtime schedule for a while, move bedtime earlier in 15 minute increments, every 4 days, until you are back to their normal bedtime.  You may even need to adjust the clocks in their bedroom during this time period.

3.  Establish a bedtime routine

If you had an effective bedtime routine before Covid-19 and summer vacation threw everything into upheaval, then try to re-implement the routine as much as possible.  Familiarity will help your child settle back into the schedule quicker and with less resistance than trying a whole new routine.  

4.  Use a timer

Bathtime and story time are super fun and a great bonding experience, but there is a tendency for your toddler or preschooler to try to negotiate more tub time and one more story.  If you find yourself constantly battling during bedtime routine, a timer can be your best friend for keeping things on schedule.  The timer can take the blame off of you and puts it on the timer:  “Sorry, the timer says get out of the bath!”  Mom can be reasoned with, but the timer is downright unwavering.

5.  Turn off the screens

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 have the unwanted effect of firing up children’s system back up when it should be powering down.  

Try to avoid screen time at least two hours before bed.  Side note:  this also applies to adults, so if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try reading and taking a hot shower instead of watching TV before you turn in for the night.


  1. Jennifer L. Vriend, PhD Fiona D. Davidson, MA Penny V. Corkum, PhD Benjamin Rusak, PhD, FRSC Christine T. Chambers, PhD Elizabeth N. McLaughlin, PhD (2013) Manipulating Sleep Duration Alters Emo- tional Functioning and Cognitive Performance in Children – Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 10, 1 November 2013, Pages 1058–1069, https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jst033
  2. Mindell J, Lee C, Goh D, Leichman E, Rotella K (2017). Sleep and Social-Emotional Develop- ment in Infants and Toddlers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 46:2, 236-246, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2016.1188701
  3. Sleep efficiency (but not sleep duration) of healthy school-age children is associated with grades in math and languages – Gruber, Reut et al. Sleep Medicine , Volume 15 , Issue 12 , 1517 – 1525

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