Adjusting sleep schedules when going back to school

Hi Alice,

As we begin to think about the next school year, I was wondering about what advice you have about adjusting from the summer late nights, late mornings back to VERY early mornings? Please give me any tips or tricks you may know to help ease the adjustment for thousands of kids across the country with the trauma of going back to school. Thank you.

— D

Dear D,

Changing sleeping habits can be very challenging, and adjusting back to a routine sleep schedule after a break from your typical day-to-day can bring its own challenges! Many people’s bodies follow a 24-hour cycle known as a circadian rhythm. When your circadian rhythm has been thrown off, it can make it harder to adjust to waking up or falling asleep at a different time. It sounds as though your circadian rhythms have been thrown off by your late-nights over your break. That being said, with some emphasis on getting back into a routine and realigning your circadian rhythms, those early mornings will be easier soon!

While staying up and sleeping late during the summer are certainly reasons a person’s circadian rhythm may change, here are some others:

  • Jet lag: The body’s internal clock adjusts more slowly than the time it takes to change time zones (i.e., travel).
  • Shift work: Schedules that oppose the typical circadian rhythm of sleeping at night and staying awake during the day.
  • Artificial light exposure:  Electronic devices emit light at wavelengths that the body associates with daytime, stimulating the body in a way that can disrupt circadian rhythm.
  • Caffeine and energy drinks: Chemicals that can stimulate the brain for extended periods of time and disrupt the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Stress and emotional difficulties: Emotional and mental health states can make it more difficult to fall asleep at night and stay awake during the day.

List adapted from the Sleep Foundation

To help improve your sleep quality and regulate your sleep patterns, it can help to be mindful of your daily routines. Getting back to a regular sleep time and sticking to a sleep schedule will help you start getting back into the habit of going to bed earlier and waking earlier. Additionally, creating an environment that makes this easier, such as trying to sleep in a dark, cool space with limited blue light can also be a way to help your body prepare for sleep. For more in-depth explanations around how to adjust your sleep schedules, you might find Sleepy from oversleeping? useful. With the proper tools, it can take time to become adjusted to an earlier morning routine; the body’s internal clock can only move one to two hours in a 24-hour period. If your sleep schedule is off by more than a couple hours, it is likely to take a few additional days to acclimate to new sleep and wake times. If, after a few weeks of your new sleep schedule, you’re still having trouble getting up or are feeling tired during the day, you may want to see a health provider for further guidance.

It's time to rise and shine!

Last updated Nov 18, 2022
Originally published Aug 31, 2000

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