It’s Memorial Day – the unofficial official start to summer! I. AM. READY!! And know it will be the best summer YET!!
I say that because the last two summers… well, I guess it depends on how you were affected by the pandemic, but I’m willing to bet that most of us are pretty much in agreement that Summers 2020 and 2021, scientifically speaking, sucked. I feel like we’re all going to appreciate this summer so much more.
And because we’re all going to be so ecstatic about being able to travel, get together, and do all the stuff that we couldn’t do over the past few summers, we’re probably going to be a bit less diligent about things like our kids’ bedtimes.
Which, hey, I get it. I’m probably going to throw some rules out the window too, and try to make sure my family has an amazing summer to make up for the horror show they had to endure the last two years.
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.
Luckily, there are some simple and low-cost solutions in the form of blackout blinds. If you’re not familiar with them, you may be envisioning some hideous, cardboard-thickness monstrosity that will completely destroy the beautiful esthetic you’ve designed in your child’s bedroom, but there are a lot of really stylish options available in a whole bunch of colors, and some are even playfully patterned specifically for kids’ bedrooms. Check here for some of my favorites.
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 how much does the feng shui of your little one’s room matter if they’re not getting any sleep?
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!)
Around this time of year I get asked if bedtimes can change, because, well, SUMMER!! If you follow me on social media, you may be thinking, “But you always talk about the importance of routines! What changes in the summer?”
And you would be absolutely right. 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 routine again 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.
You may be wondering if there is any wiggle room… YES! Of course! 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.
So maybe your out a bit later and skip bath, A-OK. Maybe you're out at a friend's house and suddenly it is past your child's bedtime. A-OK.
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.
I try to follow the 80/20 rule – follow your routine as much as you can 80% of the time and you can ease up the other 20%. In the summer, you can change that a bit more to maybe 75/25 depending on your kiddo.
What about moving your child's bedtime later for the summer?
If your child is over 3 and you have a solid routine and a great little sleeper, then sure! Moving your child's bedtime back about 30 minutes or so is no problem. If they are taking a nap, you'll prob need to adjust the nap time too so they can get to the later bedtime.
For pre-school and school aged kids who are not napping, you know your kid best and can gauge their stamina levels. I don't suggest going with a bedtime past one hour of their norm. But, say, your normal bedtime is 7:00 p.m., moving it to 8:00 is well within the realm of A-OK for summertime.
I suggest starting with 15 minute increments and holding there for about 3 days. See what happens and how your child reacts. If they are ok with that small change, push bedtime back another 15 minutes and see how it goes and so forth until you hit your ideal summertime bedtime.
If your kiddo starts having early morning wake ups or begins having pre-bedtime tantrums, that is a sign the transition is not working and go back to the prior interval. My word of caution in moving the bedtime back is to not force something your kiddo is not ready for - it just wont be pleasant for anyone.
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 - 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 lately. All the more reason to go out and have twice as much fun this time around.