09/04/2010 08:29 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Back to School (and Back to Sleep)

As summer is coming to an end and fall is right around the corner, for many parents it is that time of year again: back to school.

If you are a parent, and your child is getting ready to return to school after a long stretch of vacation time, you know that that the first week is typically a serious struggle. Ever wonder why? A few reasons:

  • If you have a teenager, their body clock naturally wants to stay up later and sleep in later so you are really going against nature on that one.
  • If your child had a later bedtime over the summer than during than the school year, their sleep pressure (like hunger, but for sleep) is less earlier in the evening rather than later, and going to sleep at their "school year" bedtime will be harder.

  • Finally, remember there is always an adjustment period to any big change and it is often pretty painful.
  • So how much sleep should your child get?

    • Toddlers ( 1-3 years): 12-14 hours of sleep, once they reach 18 months, naps will decrease to once per day
    • Pre-Schoolers (3-5 years): 11-13 hours, they usually lose their nap by age 5
    • School-aged Kids (5-12 years): 10-11 hours
    • Teens (13-19 years): 9-10 hours

    Here are a few tip and tricks I have used with my patients over the years to make the transition from summer to school a bit smoother:

    • About two weeks before school starts, have your child go to bed 15 minutes earlier than they normally do, then after three days of this make it 30 minutes and so on, until they are within 30 minutes of what should be their normal bedtime.
    • Begin to limit or eliminate caffeine intake by about 2:30 p.m., many people do not know that caffeine can stay in your system for 10 hours (this includes energy drinks as well). Check the label on some vitamin waters -- they may have caffeine.
    • Even if you cannot get your children to go to bed any earlier (which you really should try) get them waking up closer and closer to their school time wake up time. This will help provide an anchor to their already shifting biological rhythm.
    • Exercising each day will certainly help their sleep, so keep them outside as long as you can (use sunscreen) and in the pool so they will be nice and tired (particularly for younger children) for bed. Remember to make the bedroom dark, as in many cases you may be asking them to go to bed before the sun has completely set.
    • If they are into electronics in the evenings, start to have them "unplugged and powered down" an hour before bed. Have them relaxing, reading, and getting back into a bedtime routine.

    Next blog: Pre-sleep video game playing...

    Sweet Dreams,

    Michael J. Breus, PhD
    The Sleep Doctor™