Wake-up call: The countdown to school – and early mornings for our kids – begins
Tick tock. Tick tock.
As summer winds down, many parents may be wondering how to get their kids back into a regular sleep pattern in time for the start of school.
Late nights and carefree summer routines can throw all of our schedules a little out of whack.
The good news is that most kids adjust fine. Here are a few things you can do to help support the process and get your kids ready for a great school year.
What the body wants
Correcting those irregular sleep habits your children developed over the summer involves getting their bodies’ “circadian rhythm” – which is essentially the body’s 24-hour cycle of activities – back onto a more school-friendly schedule.
When the body is functioning optimally, its sleepiest times are around 3 p.m. and 3 a.m. This means that most people (when they are adults) should typically go to bed around 10 p.m. and wake around 6 or 7 a.m.
Of course, people’s individual sleep needs vary, and children’s needs are different from those of adults. Younger children need more sleep. Toddlers need 2-3 hours more sleep than older children. Teenagers’ internal clocks, on the other hand, tend to naturally shift a couple of hours later on either end until they reach adulthood.
Re-setting the internal clock
So, if your kids are sleeping later than usual – or worse yet, if they have foregone mornings altogether and are sleeping right past lunch – what’s the best way to help them readjust?
The first thing to remember is that their wake time is what helps to regulate their internal clocks. So it’s a good idea to start gradually waking your kids up early now (work up to the time they will need to wake up for school).
In all, it may take up to two or three weeks for some kids to fully adjust. So the sooner they start making this transition, the better.
Getting back on track includes sticking with a consistent sleep schedule on weekends (to the extent manageable). The reality, of course, is that sometimes kids need those extra couple of hours to catch up. So if your child stays in bed a little longer on Saturday or Sunday, don’t fret. Just try to keep the routine as steady as you can.
The ‘night before’
As adults, many of us can remember those “butterflies” we felt the night before the first day of school. All of this normal excitement and anxiety can contribute to a restless night no matter how much we prepare.
To get the best night’s sleep, following these simple guidelines can help:
- No caffeine after 12 noon. Some people might be surprised how much caffeine is in beverages like iced tea or chocolate milk.
- No TV, texting or video games for at least two hours before bedtime. The blue light in the screens stimulates the brain and makes it harder for the body to wind down, even for a period of time after these devices are turned off.
- No exercise for at least 4 hours before going to bed. While it’s important to stay physically active, it’s best not to exercise before bedtime. Exercising releases endorphins, which rev up the body and can interfere with sleep. (With team sports, evening practices are sometimes unavoidable. Just do your best.)
Recommended evening activities that might help kids fall asleep easier include:
- Taking a warm shower or drinking warm milk (but not chocolate milk because of the caffeine).
- Reading or listening to music (as long as the music isn’t too loud).
While saying goodbye to summer and hello to another busy school year can be a tough transition, we can take comfort in knowing most students are able to compensate for bumps in their sleep patterns.
If for any reason sleep problems persist beyond a few weeks, or if you are concerned that sleep issues are causing behavior problems or impacting your child’s performance at school, consult a sleep physician for help. There are a number of treatment options to help ensure your kids get the rest they need. With so much happening at school every day, it’s important not to miss a moment.
For more information, visit Crozer-Keystone’s website at http://sleep.crozerkeystone.org. Crozer-Keystone offers a multidisciplinary approach to the identification and treatment of all types of adult and pediatric sleep disorders. To make an appointment, visit our website or call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703).