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Help reset your child's internal clock before school starts

Dubbed The Dream Maker by People magazine, Patti Teel is a former teacher and the author of The Floppy Sleep Game Book, which gives parents techniques to help their children relax, deal with stress or fall asleep. Visit Patti online at ...

Back-to-school sleep schedules

I have fond memories of my children excitedly preparing for each new school year. With a brand-new pair of tennis shoes and backpack, they looked forward to the new school year with both eager anticipation and trepidation.
Back-to-school sleep schedules

Although buying our kids new school supplies may help tip the scale towards eager anticipation for back to school, it's much more important to help children to prepare for their school year by making sure they're well rested. You can help your children get off to a good start by readjusting their sleep schedule before school begins.

While the first few weeks of school are exciting, they are also stressful as your child adjusts to new experiences, people and classes. Being well rested can help children make the transition, cutting down on some of the stress and ensuring that they are ready to face the challenges, to focus and to learn.

Now that summer's over

During the long summer break, many children have gotten used to sleeping in simply "because it's vacation." Family trips and summer activities often throw off the schedules of even the most diligent parents. Children may have gotten into the pattern of staying up late and sleeping late. If this problem isn't corrected before school starts, children are likely to struggle as they adjust to an earlier schedule.

Parents can help re-set their children's internal clocks and correct this problem so they're ready for school. Here's how:

I suggest that for a week before school starts, you move up bedtime by 15-30 minutes. But simply having children go to sleep earlier won't solve the problem as long as they are still getting up late -- it's also important that you consistently wake your kids up earlier. To motivate your children to get out of bed, it often helps if you create a reason for them to have to get up in the morning. It would be ideal to have them spend time outside -- the early morning sunshine helps to reset the internal clock.

The first week that you wake your children up earlier can cause them to be tired and sleep deprived -- however, if you continue to firmly enforce the wake-up time, your child should begin to naturally fall asleep earlier. By beginning this process a week before school starts, your kids will have the advantage of being well rested and ready to learn, starting from the very first day of school.

Are they getting enough sleep?

When kids have trouble getting out of bed on their own in the morning, are grouchy, and/or have irritable or moody behavior during the day, it's very likely that they need more sleep. Insufficient sleep affects mood, immunity and the ability to learn. Ideally, children should consistently go to bed at the same time every night.

Even on the weekends, bedtime should not vary by more than one hour a night or a total of two hours for the entire weekend. If it does, you're setting your child up for a sort of jet lag when Monday morning rolls around.

Here's the breakdown

Before school starts:

  1. Move bedtime up by 15 to 30 minutes one week before school starts.
  2. Consistently wake kids up earlier during the week before school starts.
  3. Motivate children to get out of bed by creating fun reasons for them to get going. For example, plan an early morning treasure hunt, a picnic breakfast at the park or a back to school breakfast with friends.
  4. Be sure your child spends time outside in the morning -- early morning sunshine helps to reset the internal clock.

In addition, here are some sleep prep tips that may help with the back to school transition:

  1. Allow time for a leisurely bedtime routine.
  2. Have a consistent bedtime.
  3. Warn your children five to ten minutes before they need to get ready for bed so they can wrap up what they're doing.
  4. Have quiet activities before bed. (Limit television, video games and computer time.)
  5. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the late afternoon and evening.
  6. Teach your children relaxation techniques to help them relax and fall asleep.

Related back-to-school articles

Time for what? 12 must-do rules for back-to-school
Getting over back-to-school fears

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