It’s June. School’s out. The sun is blasting through the windows and the sounds of children playing in the neighborhood is loud and joyful, but it’s 8:30 p.m. What do you do? It’s tempting to throw caution to the wind, because after all, it’s summer vacation! But maintaining your child’s summer sleep schedule is important, and here’s why.
How Does Summer Sabotage Sleep?
Older elementary school children often have summer camps and activities that start early in the day. Most daycares don’t change their hours for summer either, and parent schedules don’t change much.
With so much remaining the same in the summer months, a late bedtime is only going to mean one thing: lack of sleep.
Sleep Affects Appetite
There are two hormones that regulate appetite. Sleep deprivation actually spikes the level of the hormone, ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.
Additionally, some children who are active during the school year find themselves with more free time in the summer. Free time and extra appetite can lead to overeating, and craving foods that are less healthy like sweets and fats.
Circadian Rhythms can be Disrupted
The circadian system is what regulates our sleep-wake cycles in a 24-hour day. This “internal clock” is set well in toddlers and young children who have been on a schedule. Much like traveling between time zones, a shift in a child’s bedtime schedule can throw off their internal timing.
Back to School
Letting bedtime slide by less than an hour isn’t hard to fix, but allowing it to slide until sundown could create a hidden monster in September.
The first week of school is exhausting as it is, but it’s even worse when a child has been on a different schedule all summer. It can take quite a few weeks to shift your child back on their school schedule if things get off the rails in summer.
Maintaining your Child’s Summer Sleep Schedule
First and foremost, establish a consistent summer bedtime. If that bedtime happens to fall during daylight hours, installing blackout shades and using a white noise machine are two ways to combat the bright light and neighborhood noises.
Respect the Nap
Preschoolers still need their 10 to 13 hours, while older kids should be getting 8 to 11 hours of sleep. For children who no longer nap, those hours have to come from nighttime sleep. For those who do nap, it’s still important to push pause on daytime activities, no matter how fun they might be, and get that nap.
You’re Not a Mean Parent
Inevitably there will be parents and families who allow bedtime to slide quite a bit in the summer. It becomes your problem if your children are old enough to hear about it and make comparisons to the other kids their age.
Just remember: having a consistent sleep schedule and getting enough sleep are crucial for healthy brain and body development, and those systems don’t stop when school does. Perhaps this is the first of many decisions you will make for your children that will be unpopular, but better in the long run.
With school-aged children, it’s ok to let bedtime slide a half-hour or so, as long as you give some time at the end of summer to move it back before school starts. A late night here or there for fireworks or a movie in the park won’t affect an older child if it’s not a habit.
Being fairly consistent otherwise in the summer is going to be a better health decision for your child long-term, even if it makes you the “bad guy” for a few years.
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