Ask the Pediatrician | Teenagers | Tweens

Get school sleep routines back on track!

You’ve only got a week left so it’s time to start getting your children ready for the early morning wake-up times that school demands.

It’s common to let things slide in the summer. It’s light so late, fireworks and outdoor fun last until even the adults are bleary-eyed, but kids have had the luxury of sleeping in all summer and most middle and high school kids have taken advantage of this for sure.

My middle schoolers have stayed up until about 10 and awoken at 8 all summer long and my high schooler has had many a night up well past midnight and sleeping in until noon. She had a summer job that helped keep her a bit more on track, but even so it will be a rude awakening come September 4 when the alarm clock goes off to ready her for her 7:35 school start time.

Before shifting sleep patterns, it’s important to know how much sleep your child needs. Elementary school students typically need nearly 11 hours of sleep and even middle schoolers usually need 10 hours or so with the added physical demands of puberty. By high school, ideally students need 8-9 hours of sleep, but for many that is a challenge with the demands of homework and extra curricular activities.

First step in the shift to a back-to-school sleep routine is starting to wake up earlier. By waking closer to the school wake-up time you’ll quickly develop a sleep debt that will fuel a tired feeling at night and make your child feel sleepier earlier. I know it sounds tough to think about waking at 6 a.m. over Labor Day weekend, but you’ll be glad you did when Tuesday rolls around and that’s the time your high schooler’s alarm will need to go off.

After the first couple of days of earlier rising, start shifting bedtimes earlier too so that by Labor Day weekend everyone is on the new schedule with school bedtimes and wake-up times in place.

By starting early, you allow your children plenty of time to slowly adjust. This shift is sort of like jet lag adjustment and by going slowly it’s much easier and there will be no grogginesss the first few days of school.

If you get started later, though, you can still do a fast-track approach by adjusting the wake-up time over a matter of a few days and the bed time accordingly, but expect more crankiness and grogginess. It’s still better, though, to get this out of the way before the school year begins!

Dr. Molly O'Shea
Dr. Molly O'Shea is a board-certified pediatrician who cares for families in her practice Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center. She will answer your questions on babies, children, adolescents and families and address common concerns.