Summer brings flexible hours for most children who have a welcome break from school. This is the time to catch up on missed movies and video games that were neglected during the school year.
As we approach the return of the school schedule, we realize that letting our children play outside with water guns and kickballs into the late evening comes with a price. For many, this will consist of sleepy mornings and irritability that characterize the first few weeks of school, and seemingly endless battles fought in an effort to get our children to bed on time.
If you want your child to have a less painful transition back to a new school schedule, now is the time to take proactive measures to change your child's bedtime routine. The sooner you start this transition, the less "shock" affects you and your children will experience when it's time to wake up before sunrise again.
Adopting a "faded bedtime routine" -- a reliable intervention measure to help parents with children who fall asleep too late -- can help you obtain this objective. This consists of four steps designed to change your children's bedtime routine so that they go to bed earlier, wake up earlier and get to school on time without being sleep deprived.
Determine how much sleep your child needs for his age.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages five to 11 require 10 to 11 hours of sleep. Since children older than age five usually don't nap at school, this means that they need 10 to 11 hours of sleep at night.
Children ages 13 to 18 generally require 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep, just a little more than required by their parents.
Determine the desired bed time by subtracting backwards from the time your child needs to wake up to get to school on time.
So, for example, if your child has to be at the bus stop by 7 a.m. and it takes her one hour to get ready for school and to the bus stop, then her wake-up time would be 6:00 a.m. If your objective is for her to have 10 hours of sleep, so that she can be rested, then you would subtract 10 hours backwards from this point, leaving her with a bedtime of 8:00 p.m.
Part of the pre-bedtime ritual can involve getting everything ready for the next day so that you don't find yourself frantically searching for a needed school-related item and risk having your child miss the school bus.
Many don't like to prepare in advance for the next day because doing so forces them to think about school or work in the evening when they really want to just watch that favorite show and unwind. But an advantage to preparing the evening before is that this makes it easier to get ready the next morning and, in some cases, may allow for one to wake up later in the morning.
Determine how much your child's sleep schedule will need to be changed, and make this adjustment in gradual increments.
The objective is to gradually get your child to fall asleep earlier so that waking up earlier in the morning comes more naturally. For example, if your child is a month away from starting school and is staying up late at night, have him go to bed 15 minutes earlier than when he's currently going to bed. Then move this time backwards by increments of 15 minutes every three to four days.
Since falling asleep earlier is harder than staying awake later, you will want to be mindful of the time and take active measures to help your child prepare for bedtime. This means your child shouldn't return from playing outside shortly before bedtime.
Try to have your child begin winding down his evening activities so that there's ample time for him to fall asleep. Reminding him that bedtime is approaching may help him get into the right mindset when it comes to reaching this goal.
Fade out light exposure so that it's not prominent in the evening.
Light is a stimulant that affects your sleep-wake cycle. Just as sunlight can help wake you and increase your energy in the morning, light exposure in the evening can shift your sleep cycle and cause you to stay awake longer than desired. In other words, light exposure at night can disrupt efforts to fall asleep.
So, in addition to changing the children's bedtime routine (or developing one that does not exist), it's important to bring your children in from the outside earlier in the evening, maybe around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., to reduce light exposure and help them unwind at home earlier.
This time may seem early for the summer. But your child otherwise will have a hard time getting to bed at 8:30 p.m., particularly if he was playing kick ball only an hour earlier.
Going back to school doesn't have to involve heated friction in the evenings and unpleasant battles undertaken to get them to bed on time (even though some friction is probably inevitable.
Start early in the process of transitioning them back into a healthy sleep routine and aim towards establishing a bedtime that promotes a healthy start to the first few weeks of school. Transitioning back to a school schedule is hard enough for children, who are often thrust into an environment consisting of new students and teachers.
They don't need sleep deprivation to complicate their lives more. Being pro-active in this area will help make this transition easier and enable you to win the battle of getting your children to bed on time for school.
Follow Tracey Marks, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/traceymarksmd