5 Tips to Create Healthy Sleep Habits in Kids

August 19, 2020

tween girl sleeping

It’s back to school time and that means one big challenge for parents: getting your kids back to a sleep schedule and into a routine. After a summer full of late nights and relaxed schedules, now is the time to start switching children and teens to an earlier bedtime and earlier wake time.

But that can be tricky for tweens and teens, who have adjusted to sleeping well into the morning hours.

Certified sleep specialists help families at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Pediatric Sleep Lab overcome common sleep issues, and reminds us that sleep is important for a number of reasons.

How Sleep Signals Success at School

  • Physiologically, sleep is important for children.
  • Sleep is an active process because your brain consolidates your memories and compresses certain files while you’re asleep.
  • Children release growth hormones in the middle of the night so they can continue to grow.
  • If you don’t get enough sleep, you cannot focus at school and retain information.
  • Sleep is not only vital for your physical body, but for your mental stamina as well.

Counting ZZZs - How Much Sleep Do Kids Really Need?

While every child is unique and different, here are recommendations for each age range.

  • Elementary and middle school aged children need between 9-11 hours of sleep per night.
  • High schoolers usually require 8-10 hours.
  • Pick a wake time and then subtract the number of hours your child needs to find the right bedtime for your family.

Create Great Sleepers with These 5 Tips to Help Your Kids Get Back to Sleep

We recommended starting the bedtime routine two to three weeks prior to school starting. But this can also be achieved quickly if you are out of time.

Here are five tips to help you turn your kids from night owls into early birds who adopt healthy sleep habits.

1. Anchor a wake time.

Pick the time your child needs to rise for school, and start waking them up near that time. If they are sleeping really late right now, try waking them 15-30 minutes earlier every day to work towards the time kids are supposed to wake up.

2. See the light.

Make sure your kids have light exposure an hour before the planned wake time. It’s important to have lots of light in their bedroom, as this is the strongest stimulus to our brains to wake up. Ignore the groans and throw open the window shades to help expedite the process.

3. No naps for you.

Don’t allow your children to nap when you start to wake them earlier. Their bedtime will naturally come earlier as they are more tired from a new wake time.

4. Put down the phone.

Blue light is a strong stimulus to stay awake. If your child is on a phone or playing games they are activating their brain. This is the wind down time to condition your brain to go to sleep.

5. Create a sleep routine.

Many children may have a hard time falling asleep when school starts. Start a routine now. An hour leading up to sleep time, perhaps it is time for a warm bath or shower, reading, journaling, whatever they enjoy that’s calming. This will signal the brain that it is time for sleep, and the more consistent you are the easier sleep will come.

If your kids are having trouble falling asleep, have them get up and move to another room for a little while until sleepy. We don’t want to condition the brain to be confused about the bedroom. Also, don’t use the bed for eating, working on homework, TV, etc., because this can make it harder to fall asleep.

A word on using medications as a sleep aid.

Some parents resort to using melatonin or other sleep medications. Medications can have a short term success, but long term there is no benefit.

Parents should work with a sleep doctor if considering using melatonin, when to start, what dosage, and when to end using the medication.

If your child suffers from insomnia or you need help with sleep, visit Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Certified Sleep Medicine Center for more information.