Getting sleep back on track for school

By Sujay Kansagra, MD

The days of summer are quickly coming to a close. For those on a traditional school schedule, having a few months out of school may mean more time at the pool, summer camps, and lots of fun in the sun. But one potentially unwelcome aspect of summer vacation is an erratic and delayed sleep schedule. It is only natural that when children have more flexibility in their schedule, bedtime tends to get delayed and it becomes more difficult to wake up early in the morning. In preparation for the start of the new school year, here are some easy tips you can follow to get your child back on track.

Remember that while you are buying new clothes, notebooks, and book bags, the most important school supply might just be a good night's sleep.

Tip 1: Get back in the routine

A nighttime routine is an important part of good sleep hygiene. A good routine begins 20-30 minutes prior to bed and consists of a few relaxing activities. Get in the habit of doing this every night leading up to the start of the school year.

Tip 2: Start early

The restart of school means an early wake time in the morning. This should correspond with a very early bedtime. Many children will have to shift their bedtime by over 2 or 3 hours to get lined back up to an appropriate sleep schedule. However shifting bedtime by this amount cannot be done in a single day. That is because you also have to shift the internal body clock, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm.  Parents should aim to move up bedtime by about 10-15 minutes a day until they reached goal bedtime for school. At the same time, wake your child up 10-15 minutes earlier than the day prior every day. If a child is going to bed 3 hours later than he or she will during a school night, you want to give it at least 2 weeks to get the child's nighttime schedule on track.

Tip 3: Avoid late light, use lights bright and early

Avoiding late night light exposure is important to helping adjust the internal body clock. Just as important is getting lots of bright light in the morning upon awakening. So as you move up the bedtime, you will want to avoid lights for 30 minutes prior to bed.This includes TVs, smartphones, and computers. And as you move up the wake time by 10-15 minutes, remember to get plenty of bright lights upon awakening by turning on lights in the house and opening up all the shades. Timing of light exposure helps realign the internal body clock.

Hopefully these tips will help get your youngster ready to start the new school year on the right foot. Remember that while you are buying new clothes, notebooks, and book bags, the most important school supply might just be a good night of sleep.

Sujay Kansagra, MD is the director of the Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program at Duke University in Durham, NC.