Adjusting bedtime routine before kindergarten helps kids ease into transition


New research has revealed one way to help children prepare for kindergarten is to develop a bedtime routine that includes getting at least 10 hours of sleep at night consistently.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, was led by Doug Teti, PhD, head of the department of human development and family studies at Penn State in University Park, Pa. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. 

Teti and his team of researchers found that children who slept at least 10 hours a night on a regular basis were able to adjust to kindergarten more easily, which is a big developmental milestone.

The investigators also found that children who were able to get at least 10 hours of sleep a night demonstrated more success in emotional development, learning engagement, and academic performance across the entire school year. This was found after statistically controlling for families’ income-to-needs ratios, child health status, and number of missed days of school.

To conduct the study, researchers used a movement-tracking watch to record 220 children’s sleep habits for four, week-long periods across the course of their kindergarten year, starting in July and August before the academic year began. They then measured sleep habits of these children again in September, November, and April. Alongside these tracking periods, teachers and staff evaluated the students’ adjustments to kindergarten.

“We found that children who had 10 or more hours of sleep per night on a regular basis, particularly before the kindergarten year began, tended to maintain that more optimal sleep pattern across their full kindergarten year,” Teti said in a statement. “This has significant implications for anyone interested in promoting healthier sleep patterns in children making the transition to first-time schooling; parents should do what they can to help their children regularly get most—if not all—of their sleep during night hours before the school year even begins.”

In addition, the researchers looked at the regularity with which the children got at least 10 hours of sleep over 24 hours, instead of sleeping only at night. Getting 10 or more hours of sleep over the course of 24 hours did not have any influence on the child’s transition to kindergarten. The finding suggests that “making up” for less sleep at night by taking naps during the day does not have great value in helping children make the adjustment to school.

For families anticipating their child starting kindergarten, Teti suggested setting routines and expectations for healthy sleep hygiene even before school starts. He recommended avoiding screen time, including TVs, video games, and tablets, at least 30 minutes before bedtime. He also suggested being involved and present during children’s bedtimes, implementing a consistent calming bedtime routine that helps prepare children for sleep. That routine could include bath time, reading a book, and talking in a quiet environment.