Summer’s almost over, and the kids are headed back to school in just a few short weeks. Here are seven things you can do to help make your child’s transition an easier one by getting their sleep back on track.
1. Move the morning wake-up time forward. Many kids enjoy staying up late and sleeping in late during vacation. However, by doing so their internal body clock becomes uncoupled from the external clock, as far as schedules are concerned. This isn’t a big deal when the most pressing item on the agenda is going bike riding, or getting to the pool for an afternoon swim. However, if they’re only getting up at 10 now, but will need to be awake at 6 for school, they will have to overcome the equivalent of four hours of jet lag between now and the time school starts.In order to overcome this, and to prevent the morning struggles, moodiness, and poor behavior that would otherwise appear, start moving the daily wake-up time up by fifteen minutes each day. As it usually takes the internal clock a day of adjustment for every hour of jetlag, this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Working on this gradually will help to make the transition an easier one than trying to do it all at once.
2. Make sure your child is exposed to plenty of light upon awakening, and avoid television or other screen time for the first few hours after awakening. Light sends a powerful signal to the brain that it’s daytime, and exposure to it during the first part of the day actually helps to move up the internal clock, affecting both wake-up time and sleep-onset time.
3. Avoid naps, except in children who are sick or for whom it is age-appropriate, such as those under five. Daytime sleep means less nighttime sleep, and make it more difficult for your child to fall asleep at the desired sleep time in the evening.
4. Restrict caffeine intake to before 12 noon, if at all. Caffeine is present not just in coffee and tea, but also in Frappuccinos, energy drinks, soft drinks, and other sources. Because it is metabolized at widely-varying rates in different people, identifying and eliminating it may remove a significant impediment to your child falling asleep on time.
5. Resume a regular evening activity schedule with your child, starting with a regular dinner time, and continuing with pre-bed quiet time. The actual times at which this occurs, especially the pre-bed quiet time, will likely need to be adjusted as the child’s wake-up time is moved up: there is no point putting an 11 year old in bed at 7:30 if he is still awakening at 10 in the morning, and doing so will only lead to frustration and boredom on his part, and ultimately be unsuccessful. As you move the wake-up time up by fifteen-minute intervals, do so with bedtime, and pre-bed quiet time as well.
6. Reduce light exposure in the evening. Exposure to bright light, especially blue-spectrum light in the evening wakes the brain up and can delay sleep-onset time.
7. Remove the television from your child’s bedroom if there is one. This goes for laptops, electronic games, and cell phones as well. All of these have the potential to distract and engage your child, eating away from the time he child has to sleep, as well as from other pre-sleep activities, such as reading.
Dennis Rosen, M.D.
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