Another summer has come and gone. The start of school is around the corner. A common question that I receive is, How can I get my child’s sleep pattern back to normal?

1. Wake up at the desired wake up time a few days before school starts.

2. Move back the bed time sequentially over a couple of nights.

3. Establish a routine for sleep onset, including some calming exercises.

What time should I have the kids go to sleep in the upcoming nights before school?

Before trying to hammer down a specific bedtime, consider anchoring a consistent wake up time first. That is, in order to have a regular sleep time, one must first have a regular wake time.

A key to getting children to bed early the night before school, is to have them wake up at their expected wake time in the days before the start of the school year. Get in the habit of getting them out of the PJs, getting a healthy breakfast with some protein, and get some morning light as well.

What makes our Sleep Wake Cycle?

We have 24 hours in a day. Naturally we have an internal clock that regulates our Sleep Wake Cycle. This internal clock is called our Circadian System. I’ve found that reading about our Circadian System difficult to understand. For a quick explanation about our Circadian System and Sleep-Wake cycles, see this brief video: <What Makes Our Sleep Drive>

Early to bed and early to rise... Or rather, Early to rise and early to bed?

There is a myth that in order to get to sleep earlier, one must start with getting to bed earlier. This sounds logical, but there is a paradox. Though it is true that you won’t sleep unless you are in bed, some people take this to the extreme and may go to bed several hours prior to what they have been accustomed to. If one has been staying up late over a longer period of time, the brain has been entrained to alertness in the early evening.

In young adults and teens, forcing an unaccustomed early bed time may actually lead to difficulty sleeping as the brain may be entrained to be alert at this time. In young children this may lead to sleep-avoiding behavior.

Does waking up early without changing what time you went to bed lead to sleep deprivation?

Waking up early despite your bedtime may lead to less total sleep time in the short run. However in the long run establishing a routine early wake up time leads to a more consistent sleep time.

Won’t children be tired if they get less sleep from waking up early?

Yes, and one can use this tiredness as a way to help to get to sleep earlier. Besides, what commonly happens to those sleeping in late in the days before school, is that they have difficulty sleeping the night before school starts. This leads to less total sleep time the first week of school.

Experiencing the fatigue of resetting the Circadian System in the days before school, makes it so they don’t have to experience this fatigue when school starts. The title of this article is Back to School and Sleep, not Back to Sleep in School!

What is the consequence of letting children sleep in?

If a child’s brain is accustomed to being asleep till after 8 a.m., guess what the brain is going to be doing during early hours of school? It will be working slower. When children are tired they tend to have problems with sustained attention, an inability to focus, and poor impulse control... ADHD symptoms! And their temperament and emotions can be more labile as well, resulting in anxiety, agitation, and even aggression.

Back to the first question, When should I start getting my child to bed earlier?

Most sleep experts recommend that school aged children have a bedtime that does not exceed 9 p.m. If your child has been staying up later than this, consider moving the bedtime sequentially by about a half hour per day. Once again, this should also be in the setting of established wake times.

What should we do at bedtime?

Kids love consistency, and any parent knows that when you take them out of a routine they tend to act up. A consistent wind down time may include warm bath, PJ’s, and a story. The Magic Ice Cream Palace is a children’s book that helps promote a calm down time. Parents are encouraged to cultivate their own Relaxation Response, so they can later teach their children. Others find the use of Lavender Oil to be calming. And powering down from Electronic Devices before the calm down routine is advised as well.

Sleep Guy and Santiva Chronicle wish your family great sleep, and a wonderful school year!