Health & Family

Time for the wakeup call kids and parents dread

That dreadful late-summer task has fallen upon parents once more: waking the kids for those shock-to-the-system early school hours after they've spent the summer staying up late and sleeping in later.

It's a schedule better suited to a dissipated rock star than a growing adolescent. In the beginning, it seems easier to wake the dead than to wake a teenager.

Take 14-year-old Davis, Calif., student Jackson Vanover. This summer, he slept until 11 a.m. That will change soon, says his mother, Michele Matsumoto. Matsumoto planned to wean her son off the late hours and late awakenings before school started.

She knows it might be a battle.

“I'll say it's time to wake up, and I get that ‘ughhhh' from him,” she says.

“It's more like a grunt and then rolling over,” Jackson adds.

Facing such a daunting task, we turned to Dr. Richard Stack, medical director at the Mercy Sleep Center at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, Calif., for sage counsel.

“Good luck,” he says, almost cackling. “Just drag their butts out of bed. There's no way around it.”

Actually, Stack has many strategies for easing the pain of school-year bedtime routine. But first, he passes along the National Sleep Foundation's recommendations for a good night's rest: 10 to 12 hours for elementary-age kids; nine for teens.

Those guidelines are important, he says, for a child's physical and cognitive development. A 2006 NSF poll showed that 80 percent of adolescents who met the sleep goals earned A's and B's. But in that same survey, 28 percent of high school students say they fall asleep in class.

So, what to do to ensure your kids aren't part of the 28 percent of sleepyheads?

Stack's approach is three-pronged:

— A gradual shift in bedtime and wakeup time.

“You cannot force people to fall asleep, but you can force them to wake up,” he says. “If the kid's going to bed at 11 now and you need to target it at 9:30. If he's waking up at 9 o'clock now and he's going to need to get up at 7 (a.m.), you take those hours and split them up. Get him up 15 minutes earlier each day before school starts.”

And, yes, he adds, weekends are included in that gradual early rising.

— Don't keep the kids in the dark. Let them greet the day.

“Exposure to bright sunlight in the morning is a great thing to do to retrain the brain,” he says. “If you have a patio area, serve them breakfast out there. That helps them get the brain going.”

— No caffeine.

“At least, none past noon,” he says.

Those guidelines are essentially what Matsumoto has done in past years with her son, she says, and it's worked. But by the same token, she has no problem with teens sleeping late in summer.

“They are growing,” she says. “I know their biological clocks shift, but I also believe they need more sleep to grow.”

The problem arises when the pattern becomes habitual. It can be akin to breaking an addiction.

Sacramento, Calif., mom Laura Rios rolls her eyes when asked if it'll be easy to wake her second-grader, Alyssa Ledesma, at 7 a.m. for school after she's become accustomed to rising at 8:30.

“I'm constantly going in there,” Rios says. “She just covers her head with the pillow.”

For her part, Alyssa says it's not fair that she's going to have to return to 8:30 p.m. bedtimes after enjoying that extra hour in summer.

Another tactic in the early days of school, Stack says, is for parents to institute a two-hour nightly “bridge time,” in which external stimulation from computers, video games, TV and cell phone texting is eliminated.

“Maybe you could make them do their homework during that time, the boring stuff that'll get them sleeping,” he says. “You should get the socializing out of the way earlier.”

Rare is the child who self- regulates sleep patterns. But such kids exist.

Karoline Gizbrekht, 14, of Sacramento, already has adjusted her routine without parental prompting.

“It's only tough the first few days,” she says. “My mom never has to come in to get me up.”

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