It’s back to school season, and parents everywhere are eager to get back into a routine, while simultaneously dreading the early wake-up call and cajoling kids out of bed in the morning. Here are some tips for making the schedule reset easier on everybody:
- Gradually shift over to the school schedule in the 2+ weeks leading up to school time.
- Shifting bedtime and wake-time by 15 minutes earlier every 1-2 days will make it more tolerable and help with an easier adjustment once school starts.
- Use sleep hygiene techniques to take advantage of our natural circadian rhythm to be active in the daytime and sleepy at night:
- Bedrooms should be kept cool and dark. Black-out shades or black-out blinds can be helpful for the times of year when kids are going to bed before it’s dark out.
- Turn down bright overhead lights in the hour before bedtime; use lamps with soft lighting instead.
- Avoid exposure to electronics & bright screens in the 1-2 hours before bedtime.
- Use white noise (a fan, a noise machine, etc) to help block out any noise in the house since kids may be going to bed at a time when other family members are still awake and active.
In order to understand the best way to support your child’s sleep-wake cycle, it helps to understand the basics of sleep physiology. When it’s dark at night, our pineal gland increases production of the hormone melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy and facilitates falling and staying asleep. Exposure to light causes melatonin production to decrease. Decreased melatonin in the morning, along with a morning cortisol surge from our adrenal glands, are signals that help us wake up and feel alert in the morning.
Since our bodies are primed to respond to light and dark signals to help modulate these hormones, we can take advantage of this when it comes to helping our kids wake up easier in the morning. One of my favorite tools for harnessing our own physiology is a sunrise alarm clock. Sunrise alarm clocks work by gradually brightening a room over a set amount of time in order to help decrease melatonin production and gradually increase the level of alertness. These alarm clocks usually have adjustable settings, so that you can choose how long you want the ‘sunrise’ to take place before achieving full brightness (ex. 10 minutes vs 20 minutes). They also often provide the option of playing a sound at the end of the ‘sunrise’.
Since our family started using sunrise alarm clocks, I no longer struggle to wake our kids up on school mornings. By the time their alarm sounds, they are already awake because their body has gradually adjusted to the light in their room. They also wake up in a more pleasant mood because they aren’t being suddenly jolted out of sleep with a loud sound. I hope these tips make your transition to the school schedule easier for your family! Comment below if you try a sunrise alarm and clock and let me know how it works for you.