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Back-to-school prep: How to help kids and teens fall asleep and wake up earlier

Dr. Brian Chen, a sleep specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends students begin moving up their sleep schedule by 30 minutes, every two to three days.
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Teen sleeping in.

CLEVELAND — School bells will soon ring throughout Northeast Ohio, signaling summer break is over -- but some students will have a difficult time saying goodbye to sleeping in.

To prepare for back-to-school, Dr. Brian Chen, a sleep specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends students begin moving up their sleep schedule by 30 minutes every two to three days. This will help them wake up, on average, an hour earlier each week.

“Adjust the sleep time earlier and earlier and earlier, slowly, so that when school comes around there's not a big, huge jump from when you're supposed to be waking up and when you are currently waking up,” says Dr. Chen. “So, you can do the calculation because we're running down on the clock here.”

The Clinic recommends children ages 3-5 get 10-13 hours a sleep per day, including naps. Kids 6-12 should get nine to 12 hours of sleep a night and teenagers eight to 10 hours.

Dr. Chen says the best way to tell your brain when to fall asleep is to wake up on time.

“The time that you wake up is going to set when your brain is going to be sleepy,” explains Dr. Chen.

Light hitting the eye and exercise help awaken the brain. Students working toward an earlier sleep schedule as summer break ends should go outside and exercise the moment they get up.

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“Take a walk, walk the dog, do some gardening, play outside, whatever you want to do but try to do it earlier in the day,” Chen says.

Good sleep hygiene is key to falling asleep. Here are a few tips:

  • Students should cut off electronics and bright lights at least one hour before bedtime
  • Sleep in a dimly lit room
  • Stay away from caffeinated or sugary drinks
  • Do not eat or exercise too late at night

“Those are the things that are probably going to help you fall asleep faster and on time,” Chen says.

If your kids are more irritable, hyperactive or are having difficulty concentrating, these could be signs of sleep deprivation.

Dr. Chen says if you’re implementing all the at-home techniques and your child’s sleep schedule isn’t improving, you should contact your child’s pediatrician. There could be another underlying issue impacting their sleep.


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Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in an unrelated article on Aug. 2, 2022.

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