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As the school year wraps up, and kids and teens enter summer break, their schedules usually become much less rigid. As a result, consistent sleep tends to suffer. Also, longer daylight hours provide more opportunities to spend time outdoors in the evening, which can interfere with sleep. Finally, summer vacations are another factor that might throw your kid’s sleep schedule off-balance.
Summer sleep deprivation could potentially lead to more serious problems for kids. Insufficient sleep is likely a risk factor for type 2 diabetes in kids and teens. Kids who sleep less have worse cardiometabolic health, as measured by larger waistlines, higher blood pressure, and lower levels of “good” cholesterol in the blood. In adolescents, receiving inadequate sleep may play a role in depressive symptoms. Also, poor sleep quality and lack of sleep are related to learning and memory problems in both children and adolescents.
Unfortunately, summertime sleep disruption is virtually inevitable for most children. However, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless against its negative effects. In fact, the more knowledgeable parents are about children and sleep, the better sleep their children receive. There are many simple actions you can take to help protect your children and teens against the consequences of summertime sleep disturbances.
Children tend to maintain later sleep and wake times when they don’t have to go to school the next morning. This trend is even more pronounced in adolescents, who naturally have later bedtimes as they get older, even when they have to wake up early the next morning. For these reasons, you might want to adjust your children’s sleep schedules to allow them to stay up later during the summer. Still, this later bedtime should remain consistent from night-to-night and their wakeup time should become later too, to ensure they still get enough sleep.
A consistent bedtime routine can help promote a consistent sleep schedule. About an hour before bed, encourage your child to start their bedtime routine. This routine might include changing into pajamas, brushing teeth, dimming the lights, and reading a bedtime story. Older children and adolescents might not want a bedtime story, but they can read in bed or do gentle stretches to relax. Make sure they stop using devices during this time — smartphones, tablets, and TVs emit blue light that can interfere with sleep.
Though summer brings more unstructured time than other times of the year, it is important to maintain some of the same habits, as daytime behavior affects how well people of all ages sleep at night. For example, the more physically active children are during the day, the more quickly they fall asleep at night. Although dietary factors need further study to provide conclusive information, it appears healthier diets likely promote better sleep. Encourage your kids to engage in physical play or exercise daily, as well as eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
An important part of summertime sleep hygiene is adjusting bedroom conditions to fit the season. In many locations, summer months are sunnier and hotter. To keep sunshine from waking your child up too early in the morning, consider investing in blackout curtains. These curtains keep any light from coming in. If those aren’t feasible, an eye mask is another option for blocking out potentially disruptive light. Also, with longer days, consider transitioning inside, out of daylight, in the hour before bed. This will cue your body that it’s time to prepare for sleep.
Turning on a fan or the AC could also help create ideal summer sleep conditions for your kids and teens. When the temperature is too hot, people tend to experience more sleep disruptions. If you’re worried about making the room too cold, make sure your kids have bedding they can use or remove to regulate body temperature during the night.
If you have a family vacation planned, or if you’re sending the kids off to summer camp, take efforts to make sure travel doesn’t negatively impact sleep. Let your kids bring their own pillows and blankets, if possible. These can provide emotional comfort, and also make flying or riding in a car more physically comfortable and suitable for sleeping.
If your kids will be flying into another time zone, there are steps you can take to help them limit the effects of jet lag. Consider adjusting their bedtimes a little in the days leading up to the trip, so they start becoming accustomed to staying up later or going to bed earlier, whichever they will do in the destination time zone. Once you’ve arrived, make sure they eat meals on the new time zone’s schedule, even if they’re still hungry on the old schedule. Finally, have them spend time outdoors during sunny hours, which will help acclimate the circadian rhythm to the new location’s schedule.
The disruption of summer break doesn’t only carry the risk of negatively affecting your children’s sleep during summer — it could also impact the beginning of the next school year. To avoid this, begin preparing for the new school year a week or two in advance. If your kids have been staying up and sleeping in later, begin adjusting their bedtimes gradually. That way, by the time the first day of school arrives, they should have no problem falling asleep on time and can enjoy the first day well-rested.