Originally created 08/05/98

Return to school means adjusting to sleep pattern



When Tamara McTyre's alarm clock rings at 6 a.m. next Friday, rousing her for her first day as a junior at Butler High School, it will be a big change from her summer of staying up past midnight and sleeping until noon.

"I'll probably try to get up early a few days before, to get used to it," the 16-year-old said. But she said it will probably take her body about a month to adjust to the new sleep schedule.

Though everyone's sleep patterns are different, the week and a half or so until school starts for most area students is enough time, experts say, to help children get used to a new schedule. So, now is the time for parents to start putting kids to bed earlier and getting them up in the morning, in preparation for the upcoming school year. Depending on the child's age, adjusting to a new sleep schedule can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

"With vacation time they have more relaxed schedules," said Yong Park, a pediatric neurologist at Medical College of Georgia. "But kids who usually go to bed at 11 or midnight in summer might need to go to sleep at 8 or 9" once school starts, he said.

The best way to help a child adjust to a new schedule, Dr. Park said, is gradually. If he's going to have to wake up three hours earlier than he's used to, start by waking him up one hour earlier one day, then an hour and a half earlier, then two hours earlier, and so on.

On average, the body takes one to two days to adjust to a one-hour difference, he said. Adjusting to a change in schedule is much like having jet lag after traveling to a new time zone, and the bigger the difference the longer the adjustment period.

A child's age should also be a factor when arranging a sleeping regimen, Dr. Park said. Elementary-school children typically need nine or 10 hours of sleep, while middle and high schoolers may only need seven to eight.

To help ensure peaceful sleep, kids should avoid stimulants such as caffeine in the evening, Dr. Park said. He also recommends avoiding strenuous exercise or rough play before bedtime, and keeping the bedroom at a comfortable temperature.