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Home / News and Events / Health Tips / Establish consistent bedtimes with fall time change
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Establish consistent bedtimes with fall time change

Reviewed By: Beth Malow, M.D., M.S., director, Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center (Last Updated: November 4, 2011)

When the clocks "fall back," everyone appreciates the extra hour of sleep. But Vanderbilt sleep experts warn that the lack of a consistent nighttime routine for children can easily erase the benefits of this annual time change.

"The good news is when children wake up, there will be more light. Bright light hits your biologic clock to make it easy to fall asleep next time. That's what we do with light therapy -- open blinds, turn on the lights and get them up. The most important hours are the first few hours of morning light to help your body's natural sleep-wake cycle stay in rhythm," said Beth Malow, M.D., M.S., director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center.

The trouble comes when children think they can stay up later at night because their bedtime clock reads an hour earlier than they are used to. Younger children might want to push bedtime back to play video games. Older children and teens might want to stay up on the computer. Malow says parents should take advantage of the time change to establish a consistent bedtime.

"Don't try to go to bed one day at 8:30 and one day at 10. This may be typical, but it makes it all worse. We know if children and teens don't get enough sleep it can interfere with their ability to function during the day. They cannot focus and concentrate as well," Malow said.

She advises parents to start right away to establish a consistent bedtime and even maintain it on the weekends as much as possible. Video games, television, and computers, which are all brain stimulants, should be turned off a half hour before bedtime.

"If your children say they are not sleepy at bedtime, one good way to help them is to make sure they get enough exercise during the day. Also, teens should stay away from caffeinated products, especially after noon, to make sure they can fall asleep at bedtime," Malow said.

As difficult as it is for adolescents and teens to adjust to a consistent bedtime, parents are common offenders too, ignoring the body's natural cues to get sleepy earlier when darkness comes earlier.

"If the whole family makes an effort to take full advantage of morning light, and to reduce stimulating media before bed, everyone will benefit from this season's clock change. The key is to listen to your body, not the clock," Malow said.

Toddlers and preschoolers often resist going to sleep, especially if they have older siblings who are still awake. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for helping pre-schoolers and toddlers get into a good sleep routine..

Set up a quiet routine before bedtime to help your child understand that it will soon be time to go to sleep. Use this time to read him a story, listen to quiet music, or give him a bath. It may be tempting to play with your child before bed. However, active play may make your child too excited to sleep.

Be consistent. Make bedtime the same time every night. This helps your child know what to expect and helps him establish healthy sleep patterns.

Allow your child to take a favorite thing to bed each night. It's okay to let your child sleep with a teddy bear, special blanket, or some other favorite toy. These often help children fall asleep, especially if they wake up during the night. Make sure the object is safe. Look for ribbons, buttons, or other parts that may be choking hazards. Stuffing or pellets inside stuffed toys can also be dangerous.

Make sure your child is comfortable. He may like to have a drink of water, a light left on, or the door left slightly open. Try to handle your child's needs before bedtime so that he doesn't use them to avoid going to sleep.

Do not let your child sleep in the same bed with you. This can make it harder for him to fall asleep when he is alone.

Do not return to your child's room every time he complains or calls out. Instead, try the following:

  • Wait several seconds before answering and make your response time longer each time he calls. This will give him a chance to fall asleep on his own.
  • Reassure your child that you are there. If you need to go into the room, do not turn on the light, play with him, or stay too long.
  • Move farther from your child's bed every time you go in, until you can reassure him verbally without entering his room.
  • Remind him each time he calls that it's time to go to sleep.

Give it time. Helping your child develop good sleep habits can be a challenge and it is normal to get upset when a child keeps you awake at night. Try to be understanding. A negative response by a parent can sometimes make a sleep problem worse.

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