The school year is wrapping up and summer is nearly here. For children and teens, summer break means freedom from homework, tutors, and other obligations. For parents, this often means more unstructured time for your children. With less restrictions and longer summer days, sleep can quickly become derailed. This is important because sleep is essential for both physical and emotional health and wellbeing. When kids don’t get enough sleep, they are at higher risk for health risks, learning and memory problems, difficulties regulating emotions, and depressive symptoms. Read below for simple strategies parent can use to keep their child’s sleep on track this summer:
1. Decide on a consistent bedtime and wake time
Children and teens tend to sleep in and go to bed later during the summer. To avoid getting too far off-track from their schedule during the school year, decide on a summer bedtime and wake time and stick to this every night (including weekends!) As a reminder, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children 6-12 years old sleep for 9-12 hours, and that teenagers 13-18 years old sleep for 8-10 hours per night. It is often easiest to first choose a wake time (e.g. 9am) and then count backwards to determine the bedtime (e.g. 11pm). If your child has day camp or a summer job starting at a specific time, this may help you to decide on a wake time. For children who do not have specific summer plans, choose a wake time that is not much later than they typically need to wake up during the school year and one that would enable them to actively engage in their day.
2. Create structure and get outdoors
While summer is generally more unstructured, it is still important to set up some expectations with your child about the amount of time that will be spent actively engaging in activities during the day. Encourage your child to get outside at least once per day and to do something physically active. Exposure to natural sunlight, particularly in the morning, is important for the regulation of your child’s biological clock. If getting outdoors is not possible, sitting near a window during the morning can be helpful.
3. Limit time spent in bed during the day
While lying in bed to watch TV is a favorite pastime of many children and teens, it can negatively impact sleep. When we spend time lying in bed outside of our sleep window, our brains begin to associate our beds with being awake. This can contribute to the development and maintenance of insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep). Encourage your child to get out of bed for the day and spend time relaxing in either other areas of the home, or in other areas of their room.
4. Discourage napping
Napping is often viewed as “catch-up sleep”, but for older children and teenagers, it can lead to more difficulty falling and staying asleep at night. We all have an internal “sleep drive” that increases throughout the day and ultimately helps us to fall asleep at night. When your child naps, they reduce their sleep drive, decreasing the likelihood that they will feel sleepy at bedtime. They are then more likely to stay up past their bedtime, contributing to greater likelihood of feeling sleepy and napping the following day. If your child must nap or accidentally falls asleep during the day, wake them up after 20-30 minutes to help them to get back on track.
5. Remove barriers to getting good sleep
Children and youth often need help from parents in setting limits around technology use at night, particularly in the summer when there are fewer immediate consequences the following day. Excessive social media use is particularly problematic for both sleep quality and mental health outcomes in youth. Ensure that electronics, television, or even an interesting book do not interfere with nighttime sleep. Help your child to build a bedtime routine that includes engaging in relaxing activities and shutting off technology to set the stage for good sleep.
Need more support around bedtime? At Handspring Health we offer parenting sessions with expert clinicians, so that every parent has the tools they need to support their children. Reach out to book a free consult today.