Back to School: From A to Zzz’s

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.  

What’s the fuss?

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: 0 months to 3 months14 to 17 hours per 24 hours (including naps); no less than 11 hours and no more than 19 hours per 24 hours recommended
Infants: 4 months to 12 months12 to 15 hours per 24 hours (including naps); no less than 10 hours and no more than 18 hours per 24 hours recommended
Children (toddlers): 1 to 2 years11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps); no less than 9 hours and no more than 16 hours per 24 hours recommended
Children (pre-schoolers): 3 to 5 years10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps); no less than 8 hours and no more than 14 hours per 24 hours recommended
Children (school-aged): 6 to 12 years9 to 11 hours per 24 hours; no less than 7 hours and no more than 12 hours per 24 hours recommended
Teenagers 13 to 18 years8 to 10 hours per 24 hours; no less than 7 hours and no more than 11 hours per 24 hours recommended

Sleep Hygiene 

What is sleep hygiene?  According to the Sleep Foundation, this term emcompases 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 day 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?  One that is cool (68 to 72 degrees), dark and quiet.  A sound machine is OK (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 2 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 healthy sleep habits. 


Hirshkowitz M, et al. (2015), “National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary.” Sleep health, 1(1), 40-43.

Paruthi S, et al. (2016), “Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.”  Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 12 (6), 785-786.

Suni, E. (2022, August 9), “Sleep hygiene.” Sleep Foundation.

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