Back to School From A to Zzz’s :: Getting Your Child’s Sleep Schedule Back on Track


There’s just something about those long summer days that make us want to stay up late and enjoy the sights and sounds of sweet summertime. Back-to-school time always brings along a little bit of anxious anticipation and excitement. Sometimes, we can get so caught up in the back-to-school hustle that we forget about the basics.   

One of the things that parents often forget when thinking about back-to-school prep is getting the sleep schedule back on track. We sometimes underestimate how much sleep our kids need. Many (older) children also fall into a delayed sleep phase, or schedule, during the summer months, and it takes some time to shift those schedules back. No matter what your summer looked like this year, this guide can help you and your kids get back on track.   

Getting Your Child’s Sleep Schedule Back on Track

Why all of the fuss over sleep? According to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and The American Academy of Pediatrics, a sufficient amount of high quality sleep is vital for optimal physical health, immune function, mental health, and cognition.  

Sleeping the recommended number of hours on a regular basis has been associated with better health outcomes including improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health.

Bottom line? Children cannot sustain the attention and memory needed for learning at school if they are sleep deprived. 

Let’s start with the basics. How much sleep should our kids get? 

Newborns: Newborns to three months old should sleep 14 to 17 hours per 24 hours (including naps). They should get no less than 11 hours and no more than 19 hours per 24 hours.

Infants: Four months to twelve months should sleep 12 to 15 hours per 24 hours (including naps). They should get no less than 10 hours and no more than 18 hours per 24 hours.

Children (toddlers): Children one to two years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours, per 24 hours (including naps). They should get no less than nine hours and no more than 16 hours per 24 hours.

Children (preschoolers): Children three to five years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps). They should get no less than eight hours and no more than 14 hours per 24 hours.

Children (school-aged): Children six to twelve years of age should sleep nine to 11 hours per 24 hours. They should get no less than seven hours and no more than 12 hours per 24 hours.

Teenagers: Children 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to ten hours per 24 hours. they should get no less than seven hours and no more than 11 hours per 24 hours.

Sleep Hygiene 

What is sleep hygiene? According to the Sleep Foundation, this term encompasses having a bedroom environment and daily habits, or routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. This includes following a consistent sleep schedule, having a relaxing bedtime routine, and maintaining a bedroom environment that is cool, quiet, comfortable, and free of distractions.

What does a bedtime routine consist of? 

A good bedtime routine for children is one that is consistent, relaxing, and easy to follow seven days a week. It involves following the same sequence of activities or events, in the same order every night, to tell your child’s brain that sleep is coming. Most bedtime routines last anywhere from 30-60 minutes. An example would be: play outside before dinner, eat dinner, take a bath, brush teeth, read books or listen to music, lights out, and your child lays in their crib or bed; calm and drowsy, ready for sleep.

What is the ideal bedroom sleep environment? 

The ideal bedroom sleep environment is one that is cool (68 to 72 degrees), dark, and quiet. A sound machine is okay (consistent sound/volume) but playing music is not recommended after the bedtime routine is finished. It is also recommended that there are no screens in the bedroom, and no screen time within the last 60 minutes before bed, as it can interfere with the body’s natural melatonin production. If your child’s bedroom has too much ambient light, consider blackout curtains.   

There are other healthy habits that have been found to be important for regulating our circadian rhythms. These include early morning sunlight exposure, daily physical activity, and consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, to make sure your child is getting all of the required nutrients important for generalized body function, melatonin production and sleep.   

Backtracking to get back on track.

You’ve determined the wake-up time needed to get everyone out of the door, in order to make it to school on time. You’ve looked at the sleep requirements for your child’s age. You’ve thought about their current bedtime and the hours just aren’t adding up. What now? 

Backtrack by 15 to 30 minutes every few nights for about two weeks until the ideal bedtime is achieved, to get your child the desired, or recommended number of hours of sleep per night. Ideally, this would happen about two weeks before school begins.  However, we all know that those last-minute summer vacations happen and sometimes, you’ve found yourself two weeks into the start of the school year and everyone is just surviving, trying to make it to the weekend, to crash and catch up on sleep. Not to worry.  Start where you are, and move forward as you mean to carry on.  

Every parent wants their child to have the best opportunity for success at the beginning of each school year. There are many factors to consider to set your child up for a fantastic year. Don’t forget to prioritize those healthy sleep habits.  

What recommendations would you add to this list? 

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Heather Blanton Burns lives in Columbia with her husband and daughter. Natives of South Carolina, they love taking road trips to visit family, as well as spending time at the lakes, beaches and mountains nearby. Heather is a Board Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Certified Gentle Sleep Coach. She received her undergraduate degree from the College of Charleston and her doctoral degree from the Medical University of South Carolina. She cares for children of all ages at a small pediatric practice locally. She founded a small business, Cultivating Bright Futures, in 2020 to support mothers through education and provide encouragement for mothers at every step along their motherhood journey. When she’s not working, Heather enjoys reading, spending quality time with family and friends, staying involved in the community through Junior League, eating delicious food at local restaurants, checking out local events in Columbia and staying active through walking, yoga and barre.


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