The dog days of summer are here, and most school-aged children have been gearing up to head back to class. We all know that sleep is important for optimal health, but it can be challenging to maintain consistent sleep patterns in the summer months.  Vacations, time changes, long hours of daylight, and busy social calendars can make the transition back to their more regimented school schedule particularly challenging.

Over the last few years, we’ve found that many children don’t get all the sleep they need to feel their best and perform optimally in school. Elementary school kids should get around 10 to 11 hours a night, while middle- and high-schoolers should aim for nine.  Long hours of homework, extracurricular activities, excessive screen time and early morning start times are challenges that all families face in trying to meet sleep goals.

How can we help our kids get the best and most restorative sleep possible? Try these five sleep strategies:

1. Turn off all devices 30 to 60 minutes before bed.

This is a hard one, especially for teens, but so important!  The blue light that emanates from smartphones and laptops disrupts  melatonin production, which can make it harder to fall asleep.  If the electronics-free window is hard to achieve, shoot for keeping cell phones out of bedrooms.  Some families have success with a “family charging station” in the entryway or in an office, and making it a house rule that everyone (including adults) leaves their phones there overnight.  I recommend purchasing separate alarm clocks for bedrooms so that phones don’t need to be used for morning wakeups.

2. Keep the same schedule on the weekends as on the weekdays.

It’s tempting to let kids stay up late on the weekends and sleep in, but this can confuse the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle and make it harder to fall asleep earlier during the week.  Sticking to consistent bedtimes on Friday and Saturday nights will help kids get more sleep overall.  Plus, studies have shown that children (including adolescents) who have a bedtime set by their parents get more sleep overall than their peers who do not have parent-set bedtimes.

3. Help your kids find a wind-down activity or routine that they enjoy.

Wind-down routines help people of all ages relax at bedtime and cue their body in that it’s time to prepare for sleep.  For younger children this may be a warm bath and a book while snuggling with a parent; for older kids and adults it may be a mug of herbal tea, meditative breathing, reading a favorite novel, or journaling.

4. Make homework a priority.

 Many kids stay up too late trying to complete homework assignments for the next day.  Try to encourage completion of homework before any other activities at home so that the remainder of the evening can be spent with the family, relaxed and stress-free.

5. Exercise!

Exercise is good remedy for nearly all that ails, and sleep is no exception.  Regular exercise helps improve sleep quality and duration, so making sure that your kids are outside on a consistent basis should help them hit their sleep goals.

Try these five sleep strategies and your children should have an easier time getting into the swing of things with school.