By Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, “The Kid’s Bedtime Doctor”
If you have a teenager who has a hard time getting up for school, remember that it is a good idea to encourage your teen to get up at about the same time each day, every day of the week. The weekend rise time should not be more than two hours later than the weekday arise time. This is sometimes called “school wake time plus 2.” This helps to consistently set the body’s wake up clock.
Sleeping in late on both weekend days makes it much harder to go to sleep on Sunday night, for example, because there has not been enough “wake time” to let the body know that it’s time for sleep again at the desired school night bedtime. Consistent wake times also help decrease irritability and fatigue when it’s time to get up on school days.
In the morning, you can also encourage your teen to use sunlight exposure to awaken more easily at the desired time. The bed can be placed near a window and the drapes can be left open at night so that the sun shines into the teen’s room in the morning, for example. If outdoor sunlight exposure can be obtained before school, this is even more helpful. Perhaps breakfast can be eaten on the porch, balcony or deck (or while waiting at the bus stop). Sunlight exposure is a free and powerful stimulant that signals the brain to “wake up” fully and sets the body’s clock for the same rise time the next day.
Some light physical activity (like stretching or walking to the bus stop) will also help your teen awaken more fully. Breakfast with protein also helps. If your teen does not like to eat breakfast, try a chocolate protein shake, a hardboiled egg or even a handful of nuts or a spoonful of peanut butter.
On the weekends, schedule an enjoyable activity to take place at your teen’s optimal wake up time. For example, maybe a friend could come over to play basketball or go out to breakfast.
Some teens and adults may also benefit from a small dose of caffeine (perhaps a cup of strong tea or coffee) in the morning but generally, large amounts of caffeine should be avoided.
Remember the word CALF to remember how to set your child’s clock:
C is for Caffeine (8 ounces of a caffeinated beverage such as tea for teens)
A is for Activity (stretching or a short walk)
L is for Light (sunlight exposure outdoors for a few minutes)
F is for Food (breakfast with protein)
These changes are not easy but they are worth it: sleep is the best fuel your teen can get!