Many of us look forward to the arrival of summer and more hours of daylight, but when it finally arrives it may cause sleep problems for kids — and for the whole family. There are reasons for that, says Kaiser Permanente pulmonary physician Charles Anderson, MD.
“Increased daylight delays melatonin secretion that normally rises at dusk to trigger bedtime sleepiness,” he says. “This can result in slowing your kids’ sleep-wake clock and therefore delaying bedtimes. Also, without regular school schedules, kids often have no set reason to get up in the morning. This is especially true for teens.”
You may find that your children have difficulty winding down at bedtime during the summer, or that they don’t understand why it’s still light out when their bedtime arrives. Their sleep problems may mean that you’re not getting enough sleep either, but there are steps you can take to make sure everyone is well rested.
Signs your kids need more sleep
Watch for these behaviors when deciding if your kids are getting enough sleep:
- Temper tantrums
- Defiant behavior
- Trouble concentrating, listening, learning, and solving problems
- Increased appetite
If any of these behaviors are normal for your child, notice if there’s an increase in frequency or intensity. If so, lack of sleep may be the culprit.
Summer sleep tips for babies and young children
If your child really isn’t tired at bedtime:
- You may want to embrace a later bedtime
- Make bedtime half an hour to an hour later than normal, and allow this quiet time to be a long, slow wind-down before you put your child to bed. Let them work on puzzles, look at books, and do other quiet activities.
- Remember that even with later bedtimes, toddlers in particular may still resist bed. If your child is testing you, set firm limits, and return them promptly to bed without much interaction.
If your child really is tired at bedtime, but resisting sleep:
- Make naptime earlier. Depending on the age of your child, you can try shifting naps so your child is ready to settle down for sleep at the usual time. Just don’t make naptime so early that your child is overtired by bedtime. A balanced approach is best.
- Darken your child’s room. You can encourage an earlier bedtime AND sleeping later in the morning by darkening your child’s room with darkening shades. Results may not be immediate and you still need to help your child engage in quiet activities an hour before bed. Consistency is the key.
Teens have unique sleep challenges during summer months
“Delayed melatonin secretion coupled with increasing independence and control over their schedules can really get in the way of a good night’s sleep for teens during the summer,” says Dr. Anderson.
“Also, for some teens, poor sleep habits in the summer can result in Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, a serious problem, by the time school starts again,” he adds. Teens with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome find it impossible to fall asleep until the early morning hours and nearly impossible to get up in the morning in time for school. If they do manage to get up, they are often severely sleep deprived and their school performance suffers.
Sleep hygiene for all ages
To prevent sleep problems and keep your whole family well rested during the summer months:
- Stick to the same bedtime schedule every day.
- Make the bedroom as dark and quiet as possible. A blackout shade can help block the light.
- Keep the temperature in the bedroom cool. This includes adjusting your child’s bedding from warm covers like down and flannel to a more summer-friendly fabric such as cotton. If a baby is swaddled or in a wearable blanket at night, choose wraps and wearables made from lighter fabric.
- Avoid overstimulation before bedtime, and turn off screens 30 minutes prior to going to bed.
- Keep a regular aerobic exercise schedule, but avoid exercising too close to bedtime.
- Get direct exposure to sunlight in the morning to help suppress melatonin and reinforce a healthy sleep-wake schedule.
- Avoid drinking too many caffeinated beverages such as sodas and energy drinks throughout the day.
- Be active and social during the day rather than late at night.
Before you turn off the light and say goodnight…
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