A young girl stretches in bed and smiles big. She sits next to a teddy bear.
Help your child adjust to back-to-school sleep schedules gradually. This will help them be alert and eager to learn by the time class starts. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Good sleep habits tend to take a vacation when school is out for the summer.

Long lazy days. Staying up late. Sleeping til noon. It’s all part of the fun.

But in the weeks leading up to the first school bell of the year, don’t forget to plan an adjustment to your child’s sleep routine. It’s never too early.

“It’s natural to be flexible with bedtimes in the summer,” said Jason Coles, MD, a pediatric sleep medicine specialist with Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “But … you’ll want to transition to a more normal routine. The day before school begins isn’t the time to start—kids need to gradually adjust to a new sleep schedule.”

Begin adjusting bedtime and wake time now to work toward the following recommended amount of sleep each night:

  • Children 3 to 5 years old: 11 to 13 hours
  • Children 5 to 12 years old: 10 to 11 hours
  • Teens 13 to 18 years old: 9 to 10 hours

The best way to make bedtime earlier, Dr. Coles said, is to decrease bedtime by 15 minutes every three to four days, giving your child time to adjust.

For example, if your child is going to bed at 11:30 p.m., have him start going to bed at 11:15 p.m. for a few days, then 11 p.m. for a few days, and so on. If your bed time goal is 10 p.m., it’ll take a while to reach it.

Making sleep a priority can be challenging. Especially considering the growing body of evidence that early school start times prevent adolescents and teens from getting the sleep they need.

“Sleep is such an important element in a child’s success at school and their overall health and well-being,” Dr. Coles said. “Just like with adults, lack of sleep can negatively affect memory, concentration, mood and attitude. It’s well worth the effort to ensure that your kids get the sleep they need.”

Dr. Coles noted, however, that it’s equally important to focus on wake-up time.

“Kids will have a hard time falling asleep earlier if they’re not waking up earlier,” he said, suggesting having the alarm ring earlier and earlier leading up to the school year.

“Bright light exposure and physical activity, specifically in the morning, help this process to happen quicker and feel more natural,” Dr. Coles added.

Dr. Coles offers these 8 tips for healthy sleep habits:

  • Steadily adjust to earlier sleep and wake schedules well before school starts. This will adjust biological clocks to the new schedule.
  • Avoid physical activity before bedtime and encourage physical activity in the morning upon waking.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Reading before bed is a good choice for kids of all ages.
  • Create a sleep environment that is cool, quiet, dimly lit and comfortable.
  • Keep television, video games and other electronics out of the bedroom. Avoid using them within one hour of bedtime.
  • Eliminate or reduce caffeine.
  • Eat well. Avoid big meals right before bed.
  • Increase activity (not near bedtime). Exercise and regular physical activity during the day improves sleep at night.
  • Even on weekends, keep a regular sleep schedule and avoid extremes. Having a regular bedtime every day increases the likelihood that kids, including teens, will get optimal sleep.

Keeping your child on a sleep routine will make it easier to wake them in the morning and they’ll feel better and more rested during the school day.

But don’t expect this to be easy.

“A change in sleep habits is hard, especially when kids want to make summer last and not think ahead to school,” Dr. Coles said. “Younger kids are more likely to question why they have to go to bed before the sunset. Remind them that good sleep means more energy to have fun the next day.”