By Gilma Avalos

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Let the battle at bedtime begin!

Back to school means back to earlier bedtimes for kids, and stress for many parents.

During the summer, the battle is even more contentious, thanks to later sunsets.

“Mom, it’s light outside… it’s not time for bed,” is an excuse Jennifer Fitzpatrick has heard before.

Medical Director of the Sleep Lab at Cook Children’s Hospital, Dr. Hilary Pearson says even if you send them to bed early, you can’t quite control when kids will physically fall asleep.

“You can’t put a child who’s used to going to bed at 2 a.m., into their bed at 8 o’clock and expect them to fall asleep,” Dr. Pearson explains.

However, parents can control when they wake up.

“Help your kid get up an hour or two earlier than they’re used to. If you can gradually change their wakeup time, the child will gradually build their sleep debt and desire to go to bed earlier,” she says.

You should also get sunlight to your child’s face as early as possible.

“Natural sunlight is one of the most powerful things to cue your brain clock that it’s morning,” Dr. Pearson explains.

The smell of a delicious breakfast wafting from the kitchen can also send wakeup cues to the brain.

Schedules matter.

Dr. Pearson says the goal is to send the right cues to your brain clock.

“If you have swimming or running around and playing occurring from 9 to noon, you’re helping your body know this is the morning time, it’s time to get up to the brain,” she explains.

Even during summer break, the Fitzpatrick kids know quiet hours start around dinner time.

“We’ve been doing this since they were babies. They may get wild, but they know the drill. They know what’s happening next,” explains Jennifer Fitzpatrick.

It means electronics off, PJ’s on, and distractions away.

For younger children, the distractions may include toys. For older kids and adults, cellphones are a big temptation.

That’s why Dr. Pearson says cellphone charging stations should be outside of the bedroom. Don’t rely on them for your wakeup alarm. Use clocks as alarm clocks.

If siblings have different bedtimes, the older children should be part of the younger child’s sleep routine.

Liam reads books to his sister every night. All three kids brush their teeth at the same time.

Bedtimes should never be a punishment. Set bedtimes according to how much sleep children need.

Preschoolers need 11 to 13 hours a night. Elementary school kids should get 10 to 11 hours. Teens need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep.

Try to stick to the routine throughout the year. Drastically changing bedtimes on weekends confuses kid’s brain clocks, and makes it hard to adjust come Sunday night.

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