The Best Way to Start a Back-to-School Sleep Schedule

As summer winds down, it’s time to ease kids back into their early morning routines.

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Make bedrooms a cellphone-free zone

After a summer of chatting and texting, it may be hard to get your kids to cut back on their cellphone usage. However, insisting that phones be left in a particular spot before bedtime-such as in the kitchen, or by the front door-may improve your child's sleep.

A study of 1,656 schoolchildren between the ages of 13 and 16 revealed that 62 percent of them use their cellphones after they've gone to bed. The researchers followed the kids for a year and found that those who used their cellphones after bedtime less than once a week doubled the chance they would feel tired the next day.

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Gradually reintroduce earlier bedtimes

Work towards getting your pre-teen to bed by 8:30. That gives them 30 minutes to fall asleep and 10 hours to sleep by the time they have to get up at 7 a.m. If they need to get up earlier, they should go to bed earlier as well. For teens, aim for a 9 p.m. bedtime-which means no more late-night TV watching.

Also try to remember that your teen is not just being difficult when they say, "But, Mom, I'm not sleepy!" Starting at puberty, the body's biological clock shifts by about two hours. So although your 13-year-old may be able to go to bed at 9 p.m. and fall asleep, your 15-year-old probably can't fall asleep until 11 p.m. Patience is key.

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Establish a better bedtime routine

Kids should always do three or four calming activities before bed, says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. And they should be exactly the same activities every night. Bath, reading, prayer-whatever you choose, its daily repetition literally cues your child's body that it's time to sleep.

One note: A National Sleep Foundation poll indicates that reading as a part of the bedtime routine is associated with kids falling asleep faster and sleeping better. And don't forget your teen, adds Dr. Mindell. A routine is just as important for a 15-year-old as it is for a toddler.

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Limit screen time

Cut back on the amount of time your family spends on screen time before bed-or just shut off your computer altogether, urges Dr. Mary Susan Esther, director of the Sleep Center at South Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

In our tech-obsessed culture, it can be very tempting to go online and check your mail or play a few games before bed. "But the computer is interactive, so you can't just watch, you have to respond," says the sleep specialist. "And that interaction is stimulating enough to keep you up half the night."

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Make bedrooms more sleep-friendly

A little aromatherapy-such as a quick spritz of soothing lavender water on your pillows-before bed will help calm and soothe your tired family. You can also try lowering the temperature of the bedrooms in your home before climbing into bed, says Becky Wang-Cheng, M.D., a medical director at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio. Lower temperatures tell your body it's time to sleep. If your children find their rooms too cold, try slightly warmer PJs or blankets to help keep them comfortable.

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Add more exercise to your day

Want to get your kids to bed at night without a struggle? Try a post-dinner walk. Or bike. Or skate. You get the idea. "Exercise improves sleep as effectively as benzodiazepines in some studies," reports Dr. Kalyanakrishnan Ramakrishnan, an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. On average it reduces the time it takes to get to sleep by 12 minutes. Plus, it increases total sleep time by 42 minutes.

Sneaking more activity into your family's day is a great way to achieve better overall health and is a habit that can continue throughout the school year.
As a result, try to wrap up any exercise at least three hours before bed so that everyone has adequate time to wind down.

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Make your home a stress-free zone

Heading back to school can be an overwhelming experience for some kids and the stress of changing routines can interfere with their ability to sleep. Talk to your child about any fears or anxiety they might have about heading back to school. You can also try yoga or meditation as a family to soothe nervous energy and clear your mind before bed.