Young boy and girl at school lunch table smiling to camera.

Back to school: Bright-eyed or bleary-eyed?

Share this story now

Are your little scholars ready to take on the day or in need of constant coaxing to get out of bed?

If you’re like many parents, you rejoice at the start of a new school year, but it often comes with one dreaded task: establishing back-to-school bedtimes. Helping your child go from carefree summer days of sporadic sleep schedules to a steady sleep schedule of going to bed and waking up earlier is no easy feat.

Sleepy time tips

Nancy Georgekutty, MD, FAAFP, CPE, family medicine physician on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, says sleep is important for children’s good health — both physical and behavioral. “Plus, it’s fundamental for concentration, a necessary component of learning,” she adds.

Dr. Georgekutty offers the following tips to set your kids up for better sleep and a successful school year:

  • Avoid screens before bedtime. While it may seem harmless to let your child play a quick video game or interact with an app before going to bed, electronics emit enough light to interfere with the body’s waking and sleeping processes. “If going to sleep on a schedule is a problem for your child, make it a family rule to avoid electronics an hour before bedtime — even longer if possible,” Dr. Georgekutty says, adding that parents set a good example and benefit their own health when they stick to the curfew, too.
  • Establish a relaxing nighttime routine. Help your children develop the habit of doing three things in the same order every night that signal bedtime is coming, such as bathing or showering, listening to a favorite song while brushing and flossing teeth, reading or telling bedtime stories, or just talking with you for half an hour.
  • Make gradual changes, and praise progress. If your child is challenged by an early bedtime, inch toward the goal by backing up bedtime 15 minutes each night. For younger children, put a progressive schedule on a dry-erase board or poster board. Have your child interact with it by checking off the new bedtime each night.
  • Keep them active. Kids who burn energy throughout the day will fall asleep more easily because their bodies need to rest and recuperate. “It’s recommended that kids get at least an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise each day,” Dr. Georgekutty says.
  • Make the bedroom a comfy space. If kids feel comfortable in their rooms and beds, it helps them relax. Glow-in-the dark stars or a night light can illuminate a path to the bathroom, but otherwise, keep the room dark and the temperature on the cool side.
  • Watch what they eat and drink. Encourage your kids to avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine or sugar. Both can have the unintended effect of keeping kids awake long after they should be sleeping.