Eager, school-bound children aren't the only ones who need to reset their sleep schedules throughout the year. Many of us take advantage of summer's longer daylight hours to travel and stay out late, inflating our social calendars until they're bursting at the seams. With fall around the corner, most of us could use a revised bedtime, but making that change doesn't necessarily come easily to all.
Which raises the question: How should we go about adjusting our bedtime if we know our sleep schedule will be significantly changing? Long gone are the days of our parents urging us to hit the sack a little earlier with each dwindling night of summer vacation--so what now? And, come to think of it, did they even know what they were doing? (Science says, maybe not.)
1. Slow and Steady Doesn't Necessarily Win the Race
When it comes to our sleep schedules,Rachel Kazez, a therapist based in Chicago who specializes in intensive therapy for adolescents, reminds us that consistency matters above all. While some bodies do best with very gradual adjustments--say, waking up 15 minutes earlier at a time--Kazez recommends making a more dramatic change of two hours at once, and focusing more on the morning itself and less on the previous night. "Instead of worrying the night before how much sleep you or your kids will get, focus on a consistent wake-up time," Kazez explains.
But wait, doesn't jumping ahead a full two hours sound like a big no-no? "I think this has to be up to personal style, but I know that for a lot of teens and for myself and other younger adults, the gradual change just prolongs the discomfort." Kazez says. "The quicker one can get to consistency, the better. It's like daylight savings time, or taking a flight from Chicago to L.A.--we don't worry much about it, we just do it. Because our thoughts about it are, This is how things are now, instead of, Oh no, I have to make a change, it's not such a big deal."
2. Joy in the Morning
How can you lock a new--and much earlier--wake-up time? Kazez suggests families go on a fun, memory-making trip the week before school starts; not only does it require wake-up time for everyone, but the thrill of the trip makes the change a little easier. Don't have time to squeeze in another trip before school starts? Try offering the kiddos an extra half-hour of their favorite pastime--but only before 8 a.m. This will help motivate them to get up earlier and make the most of their prime morning hours.
Regardless of whether it's you or the kids who need a little help to start the day, a mix of water and sunlight could be the cure-all, says psychologist Michael Breus, Diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Upon waking up, you should immediately strive to get hydrated by drinking a glass of water," Breus says. He also recommends getting a healthy dose of sunshine, preferably outside, for about 15 minutes. "This will stop the melatonin faucet, which is a hormone that makes you sleepy, to help wake you up."
3. Power Down to Turn In
Those ghostly, glowing screens that take up so much of our time are bad for our sleep health. Studies show that the blue light from LED screens can slow down or disturb the production of melatonin, the hormone that tells our body when it's time to turn in for the night. Kazez recommends powering down all screens about an hour before bedtime.
In order to avoid LED-driven sleeplessness, fitness and wellness coach Angela Hubbs recommends keeping soft, orange lights around your home. Himalayan Salt Lamps, for example emit negative ions, which have been shown to do everything from boost serotonin levels to alleviate depression.
4. End the Self-Fulfilling-Prophecy Cycle of Insomnia
What about those of us who get a bad night's sleep because we obsess over the fear of getting a bad night's sleep? Whether it's prompted by the first day back to work after a two-week vacation, a new school year, or a high-stakes business meeting the next day, anxiety about needing a good night's sleep can sometimes hinder your ability to get it. Enter the self-fulfilling prophecy, a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to come true.
End the cycle of insomnia by triggering relaxation with an anxiety-melting bedtime routine, including things like a lavender-scented soak, decaffeinated tea and a read that makes you snooze (but not on a device!). "When we are stressed, or going through major changes or life transitions, the first place we see symptoms is in sleep disruption," says psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent. "Create a routine that winds you down in the evening and sets the mood for sleep," she says.
5. We're Not All Created Sleepqually
It's important to remember, Hubbs says, that we all have different physical needs and require different amounts of sleep--something families can easily lose sight of when they're without the structure imposed by the school year. "Children require more because they are still growing. Even during the summer, their routine should stay relatively the same."
Dr. Breus says teenage sleep schedules are often the most difficult because their biological clocks naturally push them to stay up late and sleep later. "The number one thing I ask parents to do is to educate their kids on the importance of sleep to school and athletic performance, why going to bed earlier is not a punishment, but rather a strategy for them to do better in school." It's a sleep strategy for adults, too. "Enjoy every bit of summer, but to the best of your ability keep your routine relatively similar in order to make any major transition an easier one."
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