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Tips for changing your child’s ‘back to school’ bedtime

HARTFORD --  If your children on summer vacation haven’t gone back to school yet, then the time is near.  As many of you know, the transition back to school life can have its challenges, maybe the biggest of which is changing bedtime back to an earlier, more consistent schedule.

If you’re wondering about the most pain-free way to do that, one expert at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center has advice that may seem counter-intuitive – change bedtime by changing wake-up time.

“The rise time is really the easiest way to do it, because you can’t really make a child go to sleep, but you can encourage a certain rise time for a child,” said Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, the director of the Behavioral Sleep Center at CCMC.

“You could move that rise time earlier and earlier by 20 to 30 minutes every few days until you reach that school-day rise time,” said Schneeberg.

Dr. Schneeberg said mornings give you an important ally – the sun.  She said it helps in two ways, the first of which is by helping your child perk up naturally after he or she wakes up.

“Once your child does wake up, it would be wonderful if you could get them outside to have their breakfast sandwich or go play,” she said.

Once a child wakes up, the sun also starts a kind of biological countdown clock to bedtime “because when sunlight hits your child’s eyes for the first time in the morning, the brain does the math for you,” Dr. Schneeberg said, “It figures out, ‘Oh, this child’s going to want to go to sleep about 14 hours from now.’ ”

“That sunlight is a really powerful, free clock-setter.”

Dr. Schneeberg said consistency is important with the entire bedtime routine because that consistency – like always ending the night with a book – will help your little one wind down.

“They begin to make the child feel sleepy at the right time, the same way adults might be - you get drowsy when you put on your robe, or you make that cup of tea,” she said.

Of course, part of winding down is getting away from that light.  She said blackout curtains help, especially in the summer.

Last but not least is artificial light, the most significant source of which is electronic devices.  Dr. Schneeberg said those should be shut off an hour before bedtime, and should be kept out of the bedroom completely.  She also said that is a good idea for adults, as well.