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Adjusting sleep schedules for school

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

The end of summer bedtimes

Have you started adjusting sleep schedules in preparation for school? I love summer as much for the looseness of the days as anything else. We might follow a general routine, but if mornings start later than usual, or dinners are a bit less regular, that's okay. Summer bedtime routines seem to follow the pattern, too: Later than usual, maybe varying from night to night a bit. It's a relaxed (and relaxing) time of year.

Little Girl Sleeping in BedBut the school year is coming, faster than we want it to. Before we know it, bus pickups will begin on early mornings, and there will be homework and practices and just a whole lot more of a schedule. Getting back into the school routine, including bedtime, doesn't happen instantaneously, though. It takes a little forethought, a week or two, and consistency -- all while remembering to enjoy the last days of summer.

Identify appropriate bedtimes

Know how much sleep your child needs and the specific bedtime he needs to achieve that. Consult your pediatrician and/or the National Sleep Foundation about sleep guidelines for your child's age. Although your child may be an outlier on either end of the spectrum (needing more or less sleep), the actual guidelines may surprise you.

Look also at the school start time and when your child will leave for school, whether by bus, foot, car or some other mode of transportation. Work backward from that departure time to determine when your child needs to get out of bed, and then when your child needs to go to bed at night to achieve adequate sleep.

If the target bedtime is well off the current summer bedtime, it's time to devise a plan to get to the target bedtime and get your child the right amount of rest.

Start well in advance

Over the course of a week or more, try easing the bedtimes earlier and earlier, maybe 10 minutes at a time. Yes, this will necessarily push back everything that comes before bedtime. At the same time, ease wake-up times earlier and earlier -- if your child doesn't wake up on her own at an appropriate time, that is. By the time school actually starts, the earlier bedtime and rise time should feel almost normal.

You'll probably meet some resistance to this, and that's understandable! (Heck, I'm resistant! I want to get every last bit out of summer.) But doing it slowly helps, as does the diminishing light of earlier sunsets. It's not like at the end of our school year, when it was very light outside at bedtime.

As a parent, participate in this earlier routine, too. You'll all be better prepared for the start of the school year.

Build the routine

Shifting bedtimes for the school year isn't just about getting in bed earlier. It is also a good time to consider the sleep routine: What happens on the way to or just before bed that promotes better sleep?

Consider everything from bathing to brushing teeth to stories and songs. If your child still likes to be read to at night, make sure you have appropriate books, and build enough time into the routine before lights out. If your child reads to herself, do the same thing. Make sure the books are appropriate and that your child has an adequate amount of reading time as she settles down.

Also, look at the foods your child eats before bed. Avoid foods or beverages with caffeine that might interfere with sleep.

Keep it consistent

After you've done the work to prepare your child's sleep routine for the school year, keep it up! When things are going well, lapsing can be tempting, even though that's precisely the reason to keep it up. Adequate sleep is no minor matter; it affects mood and even the ability to learn.

While thinking about school bedtimes and rise times is no fun while it's still summer vacation, the results will be well worth the effort.

For more on kids and back to school:

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