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Back to School Bedtimes (and how to know when bedtime is too late)

It's pretty common to live on a different schedule during the summer than during the school year. And as summer comes to an end, kids find themselves adjusting their later bedtimes to earlier ones and exchanging their lazy mornings sleeping in to rising with the sun. Since my kids are earlier risers no matter what time they go to bed, our schedule stays the same year round. There is good and bad to this of course, but the good is there is no schedule adjustment in our house come September and never any arguing about going to bed before the sun does, because that is the norm.

My oldest child started kindergarten this month though and despite our naturally early bedtime, I am still in shock of how I cannot seem to get him in bed early enough every night. The adjustment to all day school is a big one (apparently), and one I underestimated.

When a hyperactive, emotional, and extremely defiant child appeared in my kitchen on the morning of day 3 of school, and a possibly worse version of that child got off the bus that afternoon, I quickly realized that the schedule was taking a toll on my son. Even though his typical bedtime is between 7 to 7:30 pm, I recognized that this was somehow still too late given the current demands of his life, and it wasn't going to do anyone any good if he didn't get to bed earlier in order to get more sleep. That night, our bedtime routine started at 6:20 and I was walking out of his room by 6:45 pm. He was asleep within 3 minutes - a dead giveaway to how tired he really was.

The following morning the child that appeared before me was the child that I knew he really was. I received a calm smile, a hug, and a pleasant "good morning mom" and I knew that he was finally well rested and I was seeing the REAL person. The crazy version I saw the day before was simply a result of being over-tired.

While I love helping families sleep better, I also really love that my experience as a sleep consultant gets to directly impact my children on a regular and immediate basis. It would have been easy to say my son was just having a bad day or that he was misbehaving because of the transition starting school. But I know all too well that these are the exact behaviors of a tired child and that an earlier bedtime is the cure. Even if it means that our evening is a little rushed or I get a little less time with him.

Tips for parents as you're navigating the beginning of the school year and a new schedule:

1. If your child's behavior is not normal, consider their schedule and if they could be overtired. Here are some (but not all) of the many behaviors a child can display when they are overtired: emotional, hyperactive, defiant, angry/violent, have tantrums/explosions, anxiety, and depression/feeling sad.

2. If you recognize these behaviors in your child, and/or know that they are tired from late bedtimes, embrace an earlier bedtime. Start by putting your child to bed even just 10-15 minutes earlier one night.

3. Make note of their behaviors in the following days and be aware of their sleep schedules too. It's possible your child may need an earlier bedtime every night, or just a few nights per week could be the key.

Wishing everyone a well-rested school year!

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