When the daylight hours lengthen and school lets out for the summer, it’s easy to take a relaxed attitude toward kids’ sleep habits. But despite the fact that few children want to go to bed before it’s dark outside, it’s not a good idea ditch the regular bedtime schedule. Maintaining a consistent routine plays an influential role in helping kids get the sleep they need. For one thing, if your child is going to camp or daycare during the summer, he or she will need to wake up fairly early, and a late bedtime will result in too little sleep and a tired (and perhaps cranky) child. Teens like to use the summer weeks to catch up on lost sleep by not getting up until noon, but this can throw off their circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to wake up early again once school starts in the fall.
There are also potential health consequences of skimping on sleep during the summer. These include changes in mood and difficulty paying attention, as well as problems with learning, loss of appetite, overeating, and maintaining weight. In fact, after second grade many children gain weight during the summer months, and it’s thought that changes in their sleep, diet and activity levels during this time are contributing factors.
To make sure your child gets plenty of sleep during the summer (typically 10 to 13 hours per night for preschoolers, 8 to 11 hours each night for older kids), establish a consistent schedule for bedtime, even if it means going to bed before sunset. Installing blackout shades in your child’s room can help promote the urge to sleep at a reasonable hour. Even if your teen’s schedule provides opportunities to sleep in, try to get him or her up by at least 9 or 10 a.m. so that the transition back to school hours will be easier when it comes. A few weeks before school starts, gradually ease your child back to a bedtime and wake-up hour that provides enough sleep and go to school on time. A good way to do this is to move the alarm clock earlier by 15-minute increments every few nights until the right school sleep schedule is created.