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Sleep Schedules and Going Back to School

During the school year, your kids have a regular bedtime.  After all, many scientific studies have shown that the quality and quantity of sleep directly affects cognitive functioning.  In other words, short nights of sleep and/or poor quality of sleep can make a person less able to process information well.  Since you want your kids to do well in school, you help them get a good night’s sleep during the school year.  However, summer time, with no school schedule to get kids up each morning, tends to be just the opportunity kids crave to stay up late each evening and sleep late each following morning.  Ah, sleeping late.  Sounds good, right?  Maybe so, but the transition back to a regular sleep schedule when school starts again in autumn can be a real bummer.  Here are some tips to help you help your kids make that transition.

1.      Make the bedtime transition gradually.  If your kids go to bed at about midnight during the summers and at 9:00 p.m. during the school year, then start the transition by moving up their bedtime by one half hour each week until they are at their school year bedtime.

Summer “bedtime”                                                         midnight

First day of school minus six weeks                       11:30 p.m.

First day of school minus five weeks                     11:00 p.m.

First day of school minus four weeks                    10:30 p.m.

First day of school minus three weeks                  10:00 p.m.

First day of school minus two weeks                      9:30 p.m.

First day of school minus one week                        9:00 p.m.

(Note that the final transition is made the week before school starts rather than the week that school starts.  This is important for ease of adaptation.  If your kids finish the sleep schedule transition while also transitioning back to school – thus facing two significant changes at the same time – the double transition will be all the more difficult for your kids.)

2.      Your kids’ wake time should be similarly transitioned back to their school year wake time.  So, for example, if your kids wake up at about 10:00 a.m. during the summers and at 6:30 a.m. during the school year, then start the transition by moving up their wake time by one half hour each week until they are at their school year wake time.

Summer “wake time”                                                          10:00 a.m.

First day of school minus seven weeks                      9:30 p.m.

First day of school minus six weeks                            9:00 p.m.

First day of school minus five weeks                           8:30 p.m.

First day of school minus four weeks                          8:00 p.m.

First day of school minus three weeks                        7:30 p.m.

First day of school minus two weeks                           7:00 p.m.

First day of school minus one week                             6:30 a.m.

(Note that, as above, the final transition is made the week before school starts rather than the week that school starts.  Also note that this transition starts one week earlier than the bedtime transition.  That’s because the gap being transitioned is wider for wake times than for bedtimes.)

3.      Decide if your kids need daytime naps.  If not, then steer them away from naps during the day so that they will feel tired when it comes time for bed.

4.      Psychologically prepare your kids for the sleep schedule transition (steps 1 through 3 above).  Talk with them about the transition, how it will shake out (see that sleep schedule gradations above), and why it’s important to them.  Choose your words carefully; frame the discussion in positive terms (i.e., “so you can be refreshed and ready to do your best in school”) rather than negative terms (i.e., “having to go to bed earlier”).

5.      Invite your kids to tell you about their thoughts and feelings about their sleep schedule transition (or going back to school or any other change or situation that they may be dealing with).  Sometimes, simply “unloading” psychological burdens can help your kids fall asleep more quickly and navigate the sleep schedule transition more easily.

6.      Pay attention to food consumption and its timing.  During your kids’ sleep schedule transition, give your kids fewer food items containing refined sugar.  Instead, offer them healthy snacks such as fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, etc.  Also check the timing of their consumption.  Consumption should be limited as your kids near bedtime.  This is especially true of their consumption of sugary foods, starchy foods, and caffeine.

7.      Pay attention to noise, light, and activity levels relative to timing.  The closer it gets to bedtime, the quieter, more dimly lit, and less active the household should be.  Turn off the CD or MP3 player 45 minutes before bedtime.  Turn down the lights a bit.  Stop playing video games and just sit quietly . . . or read or have thoughtful conversation.  In sum, wind down.

8.      Go the extra mile to help your kids fall asleep earlier.  How about a back rub to send them off to sleep?  Or maybe sing a lullaby?

9.      Provide the kids with incentives to get up early each morning during the transition.  For example, offer to make their favorite breakfasts . . . but only if they are up and at ‘em by their target wake time.

10.    Be consistent.  Don’t stray from your sleep schedule transition plan unless you have an emergency or some other compelling reason to deviate from your plan.  Yes, your kids will wheedle and may even whine to stay up just a little later.  Can you hear it?  “Please, Mommy?  Pleeeeeeeeease?”  Be strong, though, Mommy!  Lovingly, gently stay the course you’ve charted.

By following the tips above, you can help your kids make the transition from their summer sleep schedule to their school year sleep schedule.

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