Back to School Tip #2: Re-establish wake-up time and routines

August 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Commentary, Featured, Tips

One of the great things about summer is that the kids can sleep late. For some of us, that means a break from the morning hassles that started so many of our days. But if you think that you can get your child back into an appropriate sleep cycle if you start the weekend before school re-opens, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d love to sell you.

As soon as your child is back home from summer camp or wherever they’ve been off to, begin easing them back into a better sleep cycle for school. If your child hasn’t been away but has been in the habit of sleeping until oh, say, 10 am, 11 am, or the afternoon, you may have your work cut out for you. While some kids can readjust relatively quickly (within a week), for other kids, getting them back into the school routine takes much longer.

Start by doing the math to calculate the difference between their current wake-up time and the time they’ll need to wake up for school. If they currently wake up at 1 pm every day and you and your child figure out that they need to be up at 7 am so that they have time to dress, eat breakfast, brush their teeth and comb their hair and get to the bus or school on time, that’s a 6-hour difference to overcome. Some children may cooperate with getting back into the routine of getting up early, but if you are not one of the lucky parents, divide the difference you calculated by the number of days left until school starts. That’s how much you need to adjust the wake-up time by every day, beginning immediately, if you want to use a gradual approach instead of a “starting tomorrow, you get up at 7 am” approach.


1. The “standard” professional advice is to have a family meeting with your child to discuss what time they need to wake up for school and what time they will go to bed each night during the school week. Of course, many “standard” professionals have never tried to deal with our kids, many of whom have sleep issues galore. If your teen really gives you a rough time about going to bed earlier while it’s still vacation, you may want to go to Plan B: start by focusing on adjusting the wake-up time. For Plan B, you say to your child, “You can still go to sleep late if you want, but you need to be up at _______ one way or the other. If you get up on time, good things will happen. If you don’t get up on time, there will be consequences that you probably won’t like, including having to go to bed earlier.”

2. Some children prefer to set the alarm to go off earlier so that they can go back to sleep for a bit (one “snooze cycle”). I’m not a great fan of that approach, but if it works for your child, use it. The bottom line is that they need to get out of bed by the pre-determined time.

3. Be sure to have something planned for them to do once they get out of bed so that they are not able to go back to bed. Go to the beach or go on errands or do something to keep them awake.

4. Try to structure the remaining days of summer so that your child does not wind up taking long naps during the afternoon. We want them to rise early, have a full day, and hopefully be tired enough to fall asleep at a reasonable hour.

5. Each night, have your child lay out the clothes for the next morning and set the alarm clock for the time you tell them. Getting them in the habit of laying out their clothes for the next day saves time in the morning and also save hassles such as “I can’t find any clean socks!”

If they are old enough, have them set the alarm clock themselves. A clock with large digits that can be seen from their bed and with a really really loud, even obnoxious, alarm may work best for teens who have trouble waking up. Place the alarm clock out of their reach so that they cannot just reach out to turn it off in the morning. If your child is a deep sleeper, you may need to invest in an alarm clock that is loud enough for hearing-impaired adults. Some parents may need to use a two-clock approach, where two really loud alarm clocks go off a few minutes from each other and across the room from the child’s bed.

6. Each night, have your child decide what they will have for breakfast in the morning when they get up. Making the decision the night before will also save you time in the morning or enable you to adjust your schedule so that you can make breakfast for them. When school starts, they will also need to make sure that their back pack is ready for the next morning, but for now, just focus on laying out the next day’s clothes, setting the alarm clock, and deciding what breakfast will be.

7. Make a deal (behavior contract) with your child. Tell your child that if they get up to the alarm when they are supposed to, they will be allowed extra computer time or some treat that they would enjoy. If your teen is really giving you a fight about getting up early when it’s still vacation time, you might try negotiating this way: tell them that they can sleep in on one day over the weekend as long as they stick to the routine during Monday through Friday. If they do not get up on time during the week, though, then they will have to get up early on the weekend, too. As an additional reward or inducement, they will also be able to stay up an hour or two later on the weekend (but no more than two hours). If they do not wake up on time during the week, it is especially important that you keep the routine going over the weekend (yes, even though it may mean that you have to get up earlier on the weekend than you’d like to).

8. If your child doesn’t get out of bed to the alarm and you have to go in and wake them (5 minutes after the target time), calmly tell them that you understand but that they will have to go to bed 30 minutes earlier that night to make sure that they can wake up the next morning. By getting up on time, your child gets to stay up a bit later at night and gets a reward on the weekend or can sleep in on the weekend. If they don’t get up on time, they go to bed earlier that night and have to wake up early on the weekend, too.

You can help your child fall asleep and stay asleep if you remember that a lot of our kids are always hot. Blast the air conditioner if you need to, but give them the cool room they need to sleep.

Once you start the program, introduce other elements of good sleep hygiene. More information on the importance of sleep, the impact of different disorders on sleep, and tips for getting a good night’s sleep can be found on the main web site at


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