Get Some Sleep: Back-to-school bedtimes
August 30th, 2011
04:20 PM ET

Get Some Sleep: Back-to-school bedtimes

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She blogs regularly on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

It is that time of year again. It is starting to get dark earlier. In some parts of the country, there's  a chill in the air at night. And the kids have to go back to school.

For many families, there are some rough days and maybe even weeks ahead as they help their children transition back to a schedule that requires them to get up earlier than they did in the summer.

School-aged children need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep a night. If kids have been going to bed at 10 or 11 p.m. in the summer, it is unlikely that they can suddenly fall asleep at 8 p.m. the night before school starts back. It is best to gradually readjust the bedtime one to two weeks before school starts so that the kids are going to bed 15 minutes earlier every couple of nights until the desired bedtime is reached.
If bedtime routines have fallen by the wayside, it is time to reintroduce them. I recommend that the hour before bed be a buffer zone between the hectic day and what we hope is a peaceful night. Homework should be completed by this time.

Although it can be hard to achieve these days, ideally there would be no use of electronics in that hour. And electronics, including cell phones, should be kept out of the kids’ bedrooms. This should be a time for hanging out as a family and then most routines end with bathing and reading.

It is important to keep lights low in that hour before bed. This allows melatonin to be released. It also prevents wake-promoting neurotransmitters from being triggered by the light. Light is the most powerful signal to which the brain responds to know when to be awake and when to be asleep. It is primarily because of our concerns about the wake-promoting properties of light that sleep doctors recommend no electronics near bedtime.

For the same reason, we recommend bright, preferably outdoor light first thing in the morning for one to two hours. Sitting by a bright window can be just as effective.

For many health reasons, it is important for children to have lots of physical activity to regularize their sleep/wake patterns. But again, there should be that downtime before bed. We recommend no strenuous exercise two to three hours before bed.

Remember that any habit you instill or encourage to help your child drift off to sleep should be something that she can do on her own when she awakens in the middle of the night. It is normal for a child to awaken for a few minutes several times during the night, but if the only way he can get back to sleep is to have you rub his back, that is a problem, at least for most parents who are trying to get their own quality sleep.

The start of a new school year is a good time to review your children’s use of caffeinated drinks, and don’t forget to include chocolate on the list. For myriad health reasons, soda  should be avoided and certainly children should have none past lunchtime in order to avoid insomnia. Even if it is diet and decaffeinated, it is a bad habit to encourage. Cutting out soda is perhaps the single, easiest health decision that you can make for your kids and yourself.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

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soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Poops McGee

    Awesome, post this article AFTER most kids have gone back to school.

    August 31, 2011 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. BB

    I always felt that some hot coco laced with lunesta helps...

    August 31, 2011 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hasan

      Aunt Chani is for sure not a fan of the cry it out method. Besides, you relaly haven't lived until you have had a few babies jump on your head before bedtime!

      October 14, 2012 at 00:07 | Report abuse |
  3. SoundGuy

    Here's a great tip to help your kids reach a deep sleep, fast: play them sounds of nature when you put them to sleep and ask them to pay attention to every detail very, very carefully. Sounds of nature are flowing, but at the same time very random, so that the brain can't anticipate anything. This helps you to keep focused on the sounds, rather than wonder off with some other thoughts (conscious or unconscious), which might me preventing you from relaxing and thus falling asleep. Sites such as TranscendentalTones offer such sounds, which you can easily download to your mp3 player.

    August 31, 2011 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Lily

    Not enough hours in the day to do as you suggest. Most children are in school until 3pm. Then, there are activities;
    whether it be religious education, sports, etc.....
    Once past second grade the homework takes at least 90 minutes, more with each grade. Then there's dinner and
    most families allow an hour of t.v. Your suggestion to have another hour as a buffer, puts one at about 830 pm at
    the earliest. Also, how does anyone read with lights lowered ?!? Let's be more realistic here. Also, many school
    district across the country are already in school – Arizona, North Carolina, etc... so an article like this should have
    been run weeks ago.
    Sloppy reporting, again, CNN.

    August 31, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. lcarr5

    Have your kids read to you. Then read to them. A good book and cuddle time always calms them down, even during the day. You could also have a bedtime for teddy and have them read teddy a book.

    September 1, 2011 at 07:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Nicky

    GREAT SHEETS! Does anyone know where I can get my hands on them? Meaning what store?

    September 4, 2011 at 02:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. ShannonH

    Has anyone every tried melatonin for their child's sleep disorder? According to the Natural Standard website, melatonin is an option for children (and adults too!). Melatonin has been studied in children with intellectual, behavioral, and developmental disorders that have sleep disorders. Natural Standard says that there is good evidence supporting its use for this indication. I also saw that the dosing in children for sleep disorders is typically 3 to 6mg daily at bedtime but that dosing in studies has ranged from 0.1 to 10mg. This would definitely be a good option because it has no addictive properties like prescription sleep aids.

    November 22, 2011 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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  9. Dzsennifer

    Thank you so much for the effort of pluoad it, its been almos 2 years since i fall asleep with your videos and rain storm sounds. It may sound weird but i just cant sleep without rain or storm. This even calms me down when i am at my period ( i know sound gross but its a something every woman have) because its calms down all my body and my mind ! So thanks a lot for this pluoads , greetings from Europe !

    April 8, 2012 at 08:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Charter School Chandler

    Very helpful tips you have here. I think the best is to keep your kids active which they usually are during school and right after with activities, make sure they are eating healthy (agree with low on the sugar intake) and keeping games and electronics out of their rooms! These are all helpful tips!

    August 8, 2012 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
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