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Easing Your Teens Into the Back-to-School Schedule

Before classes start, reset those summer sleep times to soften the transition

FRIDAY, Aug. 8, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Mention back-to-school preparations, and most parents and their teens think about buying clothes, getting school supplies, and picking up their class schedules.

However, there is another important preparation: retraining your teen to follow a school-year sleep schedule. Sleep experts say if you start a few weeks beforehand, the transition from lazy summer mornings to early morning departures won't be quite as harsh and stressful.

"A week or two before, maybe two weeks, gradually move them over from a summer schedule to a school schedule," said Dr. Richard Castriotta, director of the division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

"Slowly advance the wake time," he said. For instance, if your teen generally sleeps in until 12, nudge him or her to arise at 11:45, he said, "so each day, they wake up earlier and earlier." The goal, of course, is to get them to wake up at the time they need to wake up once school starts.

Parents of teens often say, "Fat chance." But Castriotta said if you explain why you are doing this, it may help. You might tell them: "If we leave you alone, we'll be dragging you out of bed" come the first day of school.

By advancing the wakeup time and adjusting the bedtime, you can help them ease into the transition, he said.

Castriotta also recommends some compassion. "You're fighting human nature here by making some of these kids get up early," he said, since teens are typically more nocturnal than adults are.

And teens need more sleep than most parents believe, between 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Luckily, there are things parents can do to help their teenager make the transition, said Dr. Michael Smolensky, a professor of environmental physiology at the University of Texas at Houston School of Public Health and Health Sciences Center.

Limit computer use and television watching in the evening, he said. The light from both affects the biological clock, he said, and teens will operate as if they are living farther West, not wanting to go to bed until 1 or 2 in the morning. "It really means some very strict control of the environment," he said.

As you phase in the earlier wake-up time a few weeks before school, enlist the help of other parents, so your teen will feel less odd or ostracized. If you present a united front, you may encounter less resistance.

Lobby for a later start time at school. "Work with the school board to change the start times," he said, noting that in schools where this has been tried, grades have gone up slightly, and students' behavior and attendance have improved.

More information

For more on teens and sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

SOURCES: Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., professor, environmental physiology, University of Texas at Houston School of Public Health and Health Sciences Center; Richard Castriotta, M.D., professor and director, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, University of Texas Medical School at Houston, and medical director, Memorial Hermann Hospital--Texas Medical Center Sleep Disorder Center
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