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Actively managing your child's sleep

posted Jan 10, 2017, 11:54 AM by Thomas Stern
My children enjoy Christmas break.  As they grow up, sleeping in is one of the luxuries days off provide.  At the end of break, getting up early again for school is a struggle.  The natural predilection of staying up late and sleeping in late is called delayed sleep phase syndrome.  Delayed sleep phase syndrome is considered normal in adolescence and young adulthood.  Therefore I would argue that delayed sleep phase syndrome is not really a medical problem but describes a normal variation in sleep patterns.  It becomes a psychosocial problem when waking up for school or work is difficult.  When the holidays are winding down and the return to school is getting closer I start to wake my children up earlier than their brains are telling them to wake up.  My oldest is 11years.  He has entered adolescence.  If he does not have a reason to get out of bed he will sleep until noon.  When he sleeps until noon he will not go to bed until after midnight.  I frequently remind him to go to bed at a reasonable hour.  That does not work too well.  Humans are very bad at making other humans go to sleep earlier.  I can sedate people but sleep and sedation are two very different things.  One thing I am very good at is waking people up.  Just ask my 11 year old.  When Christmas break was winding down, I started waking him up earlier.  10AM for a couple days and then 9AM.  It made the transition to school easier.  When my oldest was an infant I did the same thing.  When we first brought him home he slept more during the day than at night.  I would get up with him at night in an effort to let my wife sleep.  She would let him sleep during the day at the insistence of other family members who declared it a mortal sin to wake a sleeping baby. Then she would struggle to get him to sleep and keep him asleep at night.  Putting the baby to sleep became very stressful for her. Over a weekend I started actively manage my sons sleep.  I limited his napping during the day.  I would gently wake him and expose him to indirect sunlight.  Needless to say I was not very popular.  I am not very popular when I wake children early over the last several days of break. I wake them up by opening their curtains and singing to them.   But it works. In a couple of days my son was sleeping more at night.  At the end of break my children fall asleep early.  There are 2 points I want you to remember: 1) Some times you have to actively manage your child's sleep. 2) When changing sleeping patterns in your child focus on when they are awake - do not try to force them to sleep.