Problem Waking in the Morning
It is a nightmare getting my 10 year old son out of bed in the morning. Every school year it’s a problem. He hates getting up in the morning and he’s so grumpy when he does get up. I have tried everything but nothing seems to work. I tried to make him go to sleep earlier, but he just stays awake in his room. I threaten him that he will get detention at school for being late but he doesn’t seem to care. Now that September is around the corner I am dreading the return to school. He’s been staying up late at night all summer and waking up late in the morning. I know he’ll never get out of bed in the morning for school. Any suggestions to change my son’s behavior and get him to go to sleep earlier?
“Son won’t wake up for school”
Dear “Son won’t wake up for school”,
Each person has his own circadian rhythm or sleep wake cycle. Some people are “morning types” and like to wake up early and go to sleep early. Some people are “evening types”, they like to go to bed late and wake up late. This is a genetically determined propensity. (1) The problem is many times a child’s circadian rhythm is not always congruent with the rest of the family’s schedule or his school schedule. Unfortunately, there is little that you can do to change someone’s circadian rhythm. There are some measures that you can take to adjust the time a child wakes up and falls asleep.
It is common for families with school age children to encounter problems when their child stays up late at night and wakes up late in the morning during the summer break. (2) Typically this behavior cannot be changed in a couple of days and the process needs to be adjusted weeks before a child returns to school. (2) In general it takes about 2 to 3 weeks to make a change in any childhood behavior and sometimes months to change sleep behaviors. (2)
In order to get a child adjusted to going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier you will have more success if you start with an adjustment of the morning routine, instead of the nighttime routine. If you attempt to put your child asleep earlier, chances are this will not work because your son will not be tired enough to fall asleep. Instead start by waking your child up earlier in the morning. Wake your child up 15 minutes earlier than his usual wake time. Continue this for a week so that he will gradually get used to the change.
If your child has been waking up at 9:00 a.m. and he needs to wake at 7:30 a.m. for school, start by waking him at 8:45 a.m. After one week, start waking him up at 8:30 a.m. for the next week. Continue waking him earlier each week until you reach his goal.
During this time do not make any change in his nighttime routine and let him go to sleep the time he is used to. After a few days he will become sleep deprived from waking up early and he will naturally fall asleep earlier. By keeping the evening routine the same, it prevents a confrontation and stress in the household before your child retires.
Increase activity and emotional stress before bedtime many times interferes with normal settling down and a child’s ability to go to sleep. It is important for your child to engage in quieter activities before retiring so that he will have have an easier time going to sleep. (2)
This is the point where every parent asks, "How am I supposed to wake him up in the morning if he is so tired?" The answer is to use light. Light is the most powerful circadian time cue and the greatest driving force that affects a person’s circadian rhythm. (1) People are uniquely sensitive to light during the beginning and at the end of the circadian cycle. (3) Therefore adjusting the amount of light can help children naturally wake up.
The reason why we wake up is because our body senses the light which is a natural alarm clock that makes a person wake. In order to help your child wake in the morning, open all of the shades and put all of the lights on in your child’s bedroom 30 minutes before the time that you expect him to wake up. If you want him to wake at 9:00 a.m., then open the shades and put the lights on at 8:30 a.m. The bright light shining in his eyes when he is sleeping should naturally wake him up. Following this same idea, make the house dark by turning off the lights 30 minutes prior to the time that you would like your child to go to sleep.
Patience is the key, since children generally take a few weeks to adjust to any change in their routine. Your child will still probably be grumpy in the morning and sometimes may become discouraged. Praise your son’s accomplishments because this will encourage him to make this change in his routine and give him the confidence that he needs to succeed.
There are certain health conditions that may alter a child’s sleep pattern. Some children with respiratory conditions such as Asthma may spend a lot of time waking at night due to coughing, which will make them more tired in the morning. (3) Also children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea are many times excessively tired in the morning due to the excessive awakening at night. (3) Medications may also interfere with a child’s sleep pattern. (1)
Certain medications for Attention Deficit Disorder may keep a child awake at night, while long-acting anti-histamines for allergies may make a child more sleepy and difficult to arouse in the morning. If your child has a health condition that may interfere with his sleep pattern or if he is on medication it would be important to discuss this with your Doctor. Sometimes adjustments in a child’s medication needs to me made in order to provide a child with restorative sleep.
I hope you have a happy and successful school year!
(1)Rosen G. General Overview of Neuroanatomy and Neurophysiology of Sleep. Presented at: Pediatric Sleep Disorders Conference: May 31, 2002:Edison.
(2)Betz C, Hunsberger M, Wright S. Family-Centered Nursing Care of Children. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA:W.B.Saunders Company. 1994:310.
(3) Rosen G. Circadian Rhythm Disorders in Children. Presented at: Pediatric Sleep Disorders Conference: May 31, 2002:Edison.
Lisa-ann Kelly R.N., P.N.P.,C.
Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
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