If you want to get your kids-especially your teens-in “sleep shape” for the coming school year, take some advice from sleep specialists. Get started now.
“The shift of getting kids ready for school needs to start happening now, not the weekend before they start school,” said Dr. Mary Wagner, a pulmonologist and sleep specialist at the University of Florida.
During this warm-up period, don’t worry about what time your kids are going to bed, says Dr. Akinyemi Ajayi, an Orlando, Fla., pediatric sleep specialist. Instead, he suggests focusing on what time they’re waking up. For instance, if you know that Johnny is going to have to wake up at 7 every day, start waking him up at 7 a.m. now.
After a few days of this, says Ajayi, he’ll be ready to go to bed much earlier-and the bedtime will take care of itself. “You want them to get up, no matter what time they went to bed,” Ajayi said. “If I let you sleep until noon, it’s impossible for me to ask you to go to bed at 10. This way, they’ll be more tired and they’ll be ready to go to bed.”
Getting your child back on a sleep schedule is not easy. Just ask 14-year-old Tamara Nesvitskiy. All summer she has been staying up until around 1 a.m., and sleeping until noon. But now she’s trying to go to bed around 11:30 p.m. “It’s hard going to sleep that early because I’ve been staying up so late,” Nesvitskiy said. For motivation to get up early, the Winter Park, Fla., teen has been volunteering at her old elementary school-and leaving for school in the morning, well before her usual noon wake-up time. She’s already been doing this for a week. “And I think two weeks will be enough,” she said.
Of course, getting a teen who’s been waking up at 11 a.m. to start getting out of bed at 6 a.m. may seem impossible. If you’re having trouble, Wagner suggests gradually waking them up a half hour earlier each day. But she offers some words of caution to parents struggling with kids who won’t go to sleep-and worse, who won’t wake up. Establish a regular bedtime and don’t let them drink caffeinated beverages. Also, enforce quiet time before bedtime.
“Get them to stop playing video games at least an hour before bedtime,” she said. “And no movies, no online gaming or a book they can’t put down.” The idea, she said, is to ease into sleep.
Right now, you’re probably kicking yourself for letting your teens stay up late during the summer-a habit you then have to break before each school year. But that’s natural for teens, says Ajayi, because their circadian rhythms are changing, urging them to stay up later and sleep later.
That, he says, is nature-and you just can’t fight it.
(c) 2009, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
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