After a summer filled with camp, amusement park trips and swim lessons, switching back to that 6 a.m. morning routine is a rude awakening -- literally.
"A lot of kids get out of a regular schedule in the summertime,” Dr. Dennis Rosen, M.D., associate medical director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, tells The Huffington Post, “shifting their internal clocks later, to the point that they’re out of sync with the external clock.”
“Waking up earlier becomes quite difficult, almost akin to jet lag,” says Rosen. Not only does it feel crummy, he says, but because sleep plays an important roll in processing and consolidating memories, this seasonal version of jet lag can have an effect inside the classroom as well.
Unlike adults, who need around seven to nine hours of sleep a night, children of different ages require a wide range of sleep amounts to be at their best. Preschoolers typically need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep a night, kids up to 12 years old need 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night and teens need about 8.5 to 9.25 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
But the bell rings at most schools in the U.S. at 8 a.m., HuffPost Education reported in May, and 20 percent of kids and teens must report to first period by 7:45 or before, making it difficult to hit the hay early enough to log the recommended winks.
That’s part of the reason a number of sleep advocates have been pushing for later school start times, a move that would not only allow children and teens to get more -- and better -- sleep, but may also aid learning, boost memory and improve grades and overall performance.
So how can you help your children get their sleep on track in time for heading back to school? Many of our favorite sleep rules still apply: Make your child’s bedroom a peaceful environment for sleep only. Take any electronic gadgets out of the bedroom, and keep it cool, dark and quiet. But there are some summer-specific methods the experts suggest, as well.
Set A New Schedule -- Gradually
Rather than jolting the body awake on the first day of school, ease into earlier bedtimes and mornings <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/alert/back-school-sleep-tips" target="_hplink">about two weeks before the first day</a>, the National Sleep Foundation recommends. If you adjust bedtime each night by only a few minutes, kids will hardly even notice. "It takes at least a day for every hour you're jet-lagged to get back on schedule," Rosen tells HuffPost, "so don't wait until Labor Day Weekend."
Stick To The Schedule
"As tempting as it is to enjoy sleeping late in the final days of summer break, getting up earlier for school will be much easier if kids <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=4508343&page=1#.UCVLpGPLyNE" target="_hplink">begin adjusting their sleep schedules now</a>," Richard Gelula, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, said in a statement, HealthDay reported. But kids also have to keep up with the adjustments. Even on the weekends, make sure children wake up around the time they'll need to in order to be ready for school. And that doesn't mean letting them roll out of bed and onto the couch for hours of cartoons, says Rosen. Instead, they should be up, dressed and eating breakfast, and exposed to a lot of light (more on that on the next slide!). <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisdlugosz/3014398693/" target="_hplink">Cubosh</a></em>
Soak Up The A.M. Sun
Early-morning sun exposure can help us all reset our internal clocks, whether we need to naturally fall asleep at a time that allows us to wake up for the school bus or even if we're <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/10/daylight-saving-time-2012-time-change_n_1332869.html" target="_hplink">adjusting to Daylight Saving Time</a>. "Light in the morning sends a powerful signal to the brain that it's time to be awake," says Rosen.
Simplify Summer Eating Habits
It's easy to allow one too many trips to the ice cream truck during the summer, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/sleep-foods_n_1686983.html" target="_hplink">healthy eating habits play a big role in sleep</a>. Rosen points to caffeine specifically. Even though your third grader isn't taking an afternoon coffee break (we hope!), there <em>is</em> caffeine in some <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/16/high-caffeine-content-in-_n_823624.html#s240691&title=Decaf_Coffee" target="_hplink">surprising places</a>, like chocolate, that could be riling little ones unexpectedly. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kazzpoint0/6198920790/" target="_hplink">Kazz.0</a></em>
Most school-aged children won't have the opportunity to nap during the day come September, so ween them off of those extra zzz's in these last few summer afternoons. Napping during the day could push bedtime later, counteracting the new sleep schedule you're trying to cement. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jafsegal/5459082776/" target="_hplink">jafsegal</a></em>
Model Good Sleep Behavior
Establishing your own back-to-school sleep routine not only makes you a <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/alert/back-school-sleep-tips" target="_hplink">healthy role model for little ones</a>, it will also give you the energy to make sure backpacks are packed and breakfast is on the table for their first days.
For more on sleep, click here.