The summer’s almost here, and I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling this is going to be the best summer ever! I know I am going to be a bit less diligent about bedtime.
But a few days and nights of too much excitement and too little sleep can leave your kids in a state where they’re incapable of enjoying themselves no matter what they’re doing. With that in mind, I’ve put together a few tips to help you and your family enjoy this much-needed break while still keeping their sleep habits in check.
In many parts of the world, the onset of summer means longer days, which means that the sun might not go down until after your little one’s bedtime. As much as we’ve all gotten accustomed to artificial light, the sun is still the primary influencer of our circadian rhythm, and it’s harder to fall asleep while it’s light out.
The simple solution to this is to keep the sun out of your little one’s bedroom, which sounds like a no-brainer, right? But when I say it should be dark in there, I mean dark. I’m talking pitch black. Even a small amount of sunlight seeping through the curtains can dramatically affect your child’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Can’t afford to drop the cash on a new set of blinds? Try taping some black garbage bags over the windows! It won’t look pretty, but it works!
Outdoor Daytime Activity
We want to avoid sunlight when it’s time for bed, but during the day, getting outdoors and into the sunshine can work wonders for your little one’s nighttime sleep.
Natural sunlight does a number of cool things for us. It provides vitamin D, which helps regulate our moods, it stimulates cortisol production, which despite its bad rap as the “stress hormone” is actually quite beneficial at the right time and in the right amounts, and it promotes serotonin production as well. Serotonin does two wonderful things for your little ones. It enhances their mood during the day, and at night, the pineal gland converts it to melatonin, which helps them get to sleep. So the more sunlight, especially early-morning sunlight, they can get, the easier they’ll be able to drift off at night. (Just don’t forget the sunscreen!)
I can’t overstate the importance of a consistent routine and the role it plays in your child’s sleep habits. This doesn’t change over the summer break.
Everything else does though, and that’s why I wanted to stress the importance of it here. Whether you’ve got your eye on exotic travel plans, local camping trips, or even just staying at home, the days off of school are almost guaranteed to throw some curveballs into the daily routine.
Now, I’m not suggesting that there’s no wiggle room here. A little leniency when it comes to bedtime is part of the magic of summer and I know nobody wants to deprive their kids of that. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t take long for problems to build on one another. Too little sleep on night one can lead to overtiredness on night two, which makes it more difficult for your child to get proper sleep through that night, which leads to even more overtiredness the next day, and so on.
If you’re going to make an allowance for a late bedtime, try to balance it out with a few days and nights of regular routine afterwards. That will help prevent things from getting out of control and help ensure that your child’s happy and well-rested to enjoy those magical summer days.
Watch What You Eat
I think the childhood summer experience was summed up eloquently by Bill Watterson in one of his classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. Calvin walks up to the bathroom mirror with a popsicle in his mouth, gives himself a quick inspection, and walks away saying, “It’s not summer if your tongue isn’t purple.”
Junk food is a bit of a summer tradition. Hot days are so much more enjoyable with frozen treats, and backyard BBQs, block parties, and theme parks wouldn’t really have the same appeal without the potato chips, gummy bears, Dippin’ Dots, and so on.
But all of those simple carbs can mess with your child’s sleep. High carb intake can increase the number of night wakings and reduce the amount of deep sleep your child gets, and leave them feeling lethargic and sluggish the next day.
Seeing how they’re likely to be in and out of the house, and breakfast and lunch might not be as easy to schedule as they would be during the school year, it’s a good idea to leave some healthy snack selections out on the table. Cut up some fruit, prepare some sandwiches and cut them into quarters, dump some healthy crackers into a bowl, and let your kids grab them as they please.
As long as they’re getting the majority of their calories from a healthy source, a few popsicles and a root beer float shouldn’t have too much of a detrimental effect.
Get Ready for School Early
Forgive me for bringing it up before summer even really gets started, but you’ll want to keep the inevitable return to school in the back of your mind so that you can prepare.
If your child’s gotten used to later bedtimes and sleeping in in the mornings, asking them to snap back into form on the first day of school is going to be a bit of a nightmare. It’s best to ease them back into their regular schedule, and the best way to do that is gradually over the course of a couple of weeks.
I see the best results from moving bedtime up by 15 minutes every two to three nights. So if your little one is going to bed about an hour later than they would during the school year, you’ll want to allow between 8 to 12 days to get them back on track before the first day of school. That way, they’ll be rested and ready to get back into the standard routine right from day one. On that note, If you’re planning a trip or vacation, try to avoid scheduling it for the two weeks right before heading back to school so you can make the necessary adjustments.
There you have it folks! Five simple solutions to survive the summer without sacrificing your kids’ sleep schedule. I hope it’s helpful, but more than that, I hope you all have a wonderful, magical couple of months, full of fun, friends, and all the magical experiences we were all so deprived of last year. All the more reason to go out and have twice as much fun this time around.