Eight tips to get your kids on a good sleep schedule

Image of a child sleeping in bed
Getting your kids on a healthy sleep schedule can be hard during the pandemic. (Images: Adobe stock; Illustrations: Dave Chrisom, Boston Children's)

If your kids are staying up past midnight and not getting out of bed until after noon, they are in good company. Since kids have been out of school and unable to do many of their regular activities, many are off their regular sleep schedule, says Dr. Kelly Chiu, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Primary Care at Martha Eliot.

“When there’s not a lot of structure in the day, it’s easy for kids to not have a reason to get up,” says Dr. Chiu. “And when kids’ sleep is off, it has a big effect on how they feel all day.”

Here are Dr. Chiu’s tips for helping kids improve their sleep schedule.

#1. Set a morning wake up

Good sleep habits begin with waking up at a reasonable hour. “Getting up by 9 a.m. is a good compromise when school is out,” says Chiu. “Once kids start waking up at a reasonable hour, everything else follows, and they are more likely to be tired at night.”

She says it’s best to maintain the same schedule every day of the week, rather than sleeping in on weekends. “Having a variation in sleep patterns is a problem for a lot of older kids. Being consistent every day is really the key to getting satisfying sleep.”

Image of a clock and a schedule on a mobile phone.
Keeping a daily schedule can help kids stay on track.

#2. Keep a daily schedule

You don’t have to plan every minute of the day. But having some sort of schedule will help keep your kids on track. “Kids should still have chores to do and spend some time reading or learning during the day,” says Dr. Chiu. “They don’t have to spend a lot of time learning, even 30 minutes is good. There are lots of free online resources for academic enrichment.”

#3. Set regular mealtimes

Mealtimes are directly related to sleep schedule. “When kids wake up late, most of their eating is done in the later hours of the day,” says Dr. Chiu. “If you’re used to eating late, you’ll end up being hungry at night.” She recommends making sure that kids have breakfast and lunch at reasonable times, to move their hunger cycles earlier in the day.  

Image of different screens: a TV, a mobile device and a gaming device.
Set clear rules for screen use

#4. Monitor and limit screen use

Dr. Chiu says technology is at the root of a lot of sleep issues. She recommends setting clear rules around technology early and sticking with them.

  • Turn off all devices off by 9 p.m. “Devices are what’s keeping most kids up late. Without them, there’s not a lot else to do late at night, and kids will be able to go to fall sleep more easily.”
  • Only allow devices to be used in the common areas of your home, not in the bedrooms.
  • Don’t allow kids to use devices until their chores or academic work is done.
Image of mountains and trees
Taking a daily break for some outdoor activity can help with sleep

#5. Get outside activity

Encourage your child to spend time outside, whether it’s taking a walk, riding a bike, or playing in your backyard or park — just make sure all family members wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from others when possible.

“I hear from a lot of parents who are afraid to let their kids outside because of the coronavirus,” says Dr. Chiu. “And I explain that it’s generally safe, as long as they follow these recommended safety measures. And getting exercise during the day will help them sleep better at night.”

#6. Don’t allow naps

Once your kids have outgrown the need for naps — usually by age 5 — they shouldn’t be sleeping during the day. “Naps can be detrimental for good sleep,” says Dr. Chiu. “Even a short nap can throw off your child’s sleep schedule.”

Image of sheep prancing across the sky
Make sure your child’s bedroom is conducive to sleep

#7. Create a comfortable sleeping environment

Your child will find it easier to sleep if their bedroom is a place where they feel comfortable. Dr. Chiu offers these tips:

  • keep the bedroom device-free
  • make sure it’s a comfortable temperature for sleeping
  • place a nightlight in the room if it helps your child feel more comfortable
  • create a bedtime routine, such as taking a bath or reading before bed

#8. Remember that kids are flexible

With the coronavirus pandemic and many fall school openings still up in the air, both parents and kids are under a lot of stress. “Kids are really resilient and flexible, so don’t feel guilty trying to adjust their schedule,” says Dr. Chiu. “Try to come up with a schedule that’s reasonable, and your child will feel a positive difference.”

Learn more about Boston Children’s response to COVID-19.

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