Getting ready for school isn’t just about shopping for clothes and books and supplies. You also have to prepare your kids for the shift in their schedules that starting school necessitates. This can be especially difficult for your teens as their natural body rhythm prefers late nights and late mornings and this is why some high schools have shifted the start time for their older grades to better accommodate this normal development.
By beginning the school day by as little as an hour later, they have noticed improvements in scholastic achievement; the teachers have noted that the students pay more attention; and, the students themselves feel better. Here are some suggestions that should help all ages prepare:
Begin the process a week or two before classes start. Get your children into the habit of preparing for bedtime about a half hour or so before lights out. Shift their sleep time to more closely reflect what’s in store. You can do it gradually. For the hour or so before bed, no screens (video games, phones, internet). Get them into the habit of doing things that calm them down and prepare them to sleep (for example: reading, playing quiet board games or doing puzzles).
Make certain that their bedroom is comfortably cool. It also needs to be quiet and dark, although some kids may need a night light. Be careful, though, as even a digital clock — especially if its light is at the blue end of the colour spectrum — may interfere with sleep. If your child reads using an electronic device just before bed, be aware that blue tones may similarly make it difficult to fall asleep. There are aps available that shift these screen tones towards the orange end of the spectrum to reduce that effect.
Being active during the day, preferably before supper time, uses up restless energy. Avoiding caffeine (remember, it can be found in tea and chocolate, too) also helps.
The key is to establish a bedtime ritual that quiets things down and makes it easier for your child to fall asleep. If you do it gradually before school starts you may find that everyone has an easier time adjusting and is less tired.
Children who aren’t sleepy do better at school and feel better, too. Who wouldn’t want that for our kids?
Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.