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Sleeping & Soothing

How to Get Back on a Sleep Schedule

Been up late this summer? So have we. Refresh everyone's bedtime routine with these tips

Summer is all about hot dogs on the grill and running barefoot in the backyard-not heading to bed on time. But if everyone (including you!) needs to start waking up a heck of a lot earlier in a few short weeks, now's the time to get everyone back on a sleep schedule.

Learn his sleep number Preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) need 11 to 13 hours of sleep a day, which includes a nap for younger kids, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., aka The Sleep Doctor and a board certified sleep specialist in Manhattan Beach, CA. "Children who are 5 and up should be getting 10 to 11 hours a night," he adds.

Move bedtime back Based on your child's sleep number, do a little backward math to determine when he should be winding down. "Two weeks before school begins, slowly bump bedtime back by 15 minutes every three days until you get to the desired slot," says sleep expert Kim West, author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight. At the same time, start waking your tot 15 minutes earlier each day. "This helps to provide an anchor to your child's already shifting biological rhythm," adds Breus.

Keep it dark Use room darkening window shades to block out as much light as possible from your child's bedroom-darkness helps signal to the body that it's time to wind down and go to seep. "In many cases you'll be putting your child to sleep before the sun has set," says Breus.

Revive the bedtime routine Has your tuck-in process gone by the wayside? Bring it back. "Return to the habit of slowing down in the evening-those three or four things that signal bedtime, such as a bath, stories, songs, and a quick cuddle," recommends West. Do this gradually, adding in a new thing every few days until the routine is re-mastered.

Nix devices At least one hour before bedtime, hide the phone, turn off the TV, and power down the tablet. "Electronics disrupt the body's ability to produce melatonin and may actually make children more wired," explains West.

Check for caffeine Your kid probably isn't drinking coffee, but it's wise to read labels to see if the foods and drinks they're consuming contain caffeine, including chocolate, vitamin waters, or coffee yogurt or ice cream. "Many people don't realize that caffeine can stay in the system for up to 10 hours," points out Breus.

Run and play Exercising each day helps kids fall asleep more easily at night. "Keep them outside at the playground, in the yard or at the pool so they'll be nice and tired in the evening," says Breus.

Try a new alarm Consider a clock that changes color when it's time to go to sleep, suggests West. For kids still learning to tell time, this device can help kids know at a glance if they need to go to stay in bed. "Look for one that changes color at night (but not blue, as this shade disrupts melatonin production), and then moves to green in the morning," she says.