Health Watch -- Back-to-school Bedtimes

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.


Will your children be "jet lagged" when they go back to school?

With the new school year just around the corner, are your children ready to rise and shine on a new schedule? One of the many hurdles facing parents as they get their children ready to go back to school is adjusting them to a schedule that's often very different from the way they live during the summer. If you've got a teen-ager who's used to sleeping until noon but who will have to get up at 6 a.m. for school, that's a schedule adjustment as big as flying to Europe and adjusting to the new time zone. Just as you don't function well the first day you've gone to a new time zone, your children won't do well in school if their sleep schedules are disrupted.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say you're on the right track if you try to ease your children into a school schedule before school starts, but if you're like many parents, you're going about it the wrong way.

Dr. John Herman, a UT Southwestern pediatric sleep expert, says many parents make the mistake of having children start going to bed earlier before school starts so they'll be able to get up earlier in the morning. That doesn't work well because most children won't be able to go right to sleep at the earlier bedtime. They'll just lie there, staring at the ceiling, and won't get any additional rest.

Instead, start getting your children up at the time they need to get up for school. Then they'll be more likely to be ready to go to bed earlier at night. It may take a few days or a week to adjust to the new schedule, and they'll probably be tired for the first couple of days. But soon enough they'll adjust, just in time to rise and shine in school.

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Aug. 2004

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