Mention the word “bedtime” in the summer and you’re sure to get groans from kids of any age. That’s especially true of teenagers who have spent the summer staying out late and sleeping until noon.
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But when it’s time to go back to school, getting back into healthy sleep patterns is a necessity. The right amount of rest will give your children the right amount of focus and energy in the classroom.
“Anyone who’s had jet lag can relate to the feeling they can have when adjusting their sleep schedule,” says pediatric sleep specialist Sally Ibrahim, MD. “When you try to sleep at a different time than what you are used to, your mind is foggy and you don’t feel sharp.”
Advice for good sleep habits
If your kids — or you — have lapsed into a “late to bed, late to rise” sleep routine this summer, here are Dr. Ibrahim’s tips for getting back into proper school-year sleep routines:
- Focus on wake time. You may not be able to control going to sleep, given the internal clock is used to sleeping later. But you may be able to control getting up. Given most kids do not have a set wake time during summer, getting up regularly at a set time needs to start before school starts. Ideally, waking up close to the time a student needs to wake up for school in the one to two weeks prior to school can re-set the body clock. Falling asleep, then, will come earlier more naturally. Keep the wake time similar on weekends during the school year.
- Go 30 minutes at a time. The sleep clock does not automatically shift the day school starts. The body’s sleep rhythm takes time to adjust and it’s easier to stay up then to go to sleep earlier. Start by shifting their wake time earlier by 30 minutes each or every other morning. Kids will naturally become more sleepier earlier and be able to fall asleep earlier over time. Calculate the right bedtime based on the amount of sleep they need. Don’t expect a child to fall asleep earlier on night one. After adjustments in wake time, you will see them get sleepier earlier for an earlier bedtime.
- Know the right amount. According to the National Sleep Foundation, kids ages 6-12 need 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Teenagers need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep to function at their best. The amount of sleep adults need ranges between 7.5-8 hours.
- Provide the right get-to-sleep conditions. “The last two hours before bedtime should be relatively quiet,” Dr. Ibrahim says. That means no exercise, no caffeine, cell phones and tablets off and limited television. The sun still sets late in the early weeks of the school year, so use heavy drapes that darken the room at bedtime. This signals their bodies that it’s time to sleep. Allow bright sunlight in when it’s time to wake up. Enforce no light from tablets/phones/computers in bed. This can delay the body sleep rhythm and make it harder to get to sleep.
- Take sleep health seriously. “I liken it to cigarette smoking,” says Dr. Ibrahim. “Smoking one cigarette does not kill a person, but long-term smoking does affect people’s health. If you don’t get enough/quality sleep for a long enough period of time, it begins to take a toll on your health.” Sleeping problems make chronic diseases harder to treat, she says, and they contribute to a lack of energy, low pain tolerance, changes in hormone levels and a decline in learning and critical thinking.
Dr. Ibrahim says rewarding smaller children for sticking to the sleep schedule may serve as extra motivation. Helping your kids get their rest is great preparation for success at school and in life.