Summertime. Long days, the sprinkler, ice cream, BBQs, and endless hours outside with the kids. So when you think of summertime, I would say most of us don’t associate it with sleep! And with those additional hours of daylight often comes sleep problems for children.
Kaiser Permanente pulmonary physician Charles Anderson, MD, says, “Increased daylight delays melatonin secretion that normally rises at dusk to trigger bedtime sleepiness. This can result in slowing your kids’ sleep-wake clock and therefore delaying bedtimes.” So how can you best counteract that from happening?
Here are my summer sleep tips for keeping your child’s sleep on track during the summertime:
1. Have a consistent bedtime routine that will help your child’s body cue it’s time to prepare for sleep. That means keep the order of the steps the same, even if you know it’s a night where they will be going down later than usual due to a family BBQ!
2. Make the bedroom as dark as possible. When you turn off the lights, you shouldn’t be able to see your hand out in front of you. Blackout shades or film work wonders in blocking the light. You can even use tin foil or a black garbage bag to tape over any cracks of light coming through or on the sides of an AC unit. Not only does this help your child fall asleep more easily, but it also helps prevent any early morning wakeups.
3. Keep the temperature in the bedroom cool, ideally between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. It also helps to change your child’s bedding to a more breathable, light fabric such as organic cotton or muslin. If your baby is swaddled or in a sleep sack, choose one that is made from 100% cotton or if your room runs warmer than 72 degrees, look to see if the swaddle/wearable blanket company has a 0.5 tog rating option, which means it will be a lighter weight.
4. Since it’s still fairly bright outside leading up to bedtime, start to pull down your shades after dinner time so that their bodies aren’t suppressing that melatonin production leading up to bed. Studies show that even having bright lights on right before bed or a bright nightlight can prohibit optimal melatonin levels for nighttime sleep.
5. Exposure to direct sunlight and playing outside is so important for sleep hygiene. It actually helps reinforce your child’s internal sleep clock and that exposure to sunlight allows their bodies to produce more melatonin when it comes time for sleep! So try to schedule your child’s activity during the day and not within an hour of bedtime.
6. Sleep begets sleep! Just because your infant or toddler went to bed later than usual doesn’t actually mean they will be sleeping in later. So watch for overtired signs the next day and be prepared for an earlier bedtime too if needed to help your child’s body regain any lost sleep. Similarly, if he skips a nap to enjoy more family time, move up bedtime, so you don’t overtire him and risk causing night-wakings or an early morning wakeup.
When you consistently show your child a pattern of how and when they should fall asleep, they are comforted by that routine and consistency. Children THRIVE off consistency; when they know what is coming next and what to expect, it actually reduces stress. If they see a different string of events before bedtime each day or are put to bed at a different time each night, they see chaos and they aren’t able to fall or stay asleep as easily. We certainly don’t want that to happen!
But, I’m here to tell you that when you enforce these healthy sleep habits, it actually allows you and your family to enjoy “off schedule” summer days and nights even more! When you give your child the foundation and structure they need around sleep, they can more easily go back to their normal schedule when they skip a nap to enjoy more beach time or stay up later to roast some marshmallows! I always say moderation is key – your sleep routine will always be there for you if you have an off day or two! So enjoy these long summer days and remember to establish those healthy sleep habits so you can have a child that can more easily go “off schedule” when needed this summer!
Julie Connelly is a certified infant and toddler sleep consultant and the founder of The Sleepyhead Coach. She resides in Larchmont, NY with her husband and two daughters (4.5 and 2 years old). When she’s not chatting about sleep, she enjoys running in town, taking walks to the duck pond with her girls, and hosting parties with friends and neighbors. Follow her at @thesleepyheadcoach.