June 18, 2013 at 8:06 AM ET
Long summer days, camps, and vacations in different time zones can mess with your children’s sleep/wake patterns. Depending on their level of physical activity, kids may even need more sleep now than during their school year.
When it comes to avoiding summer sleep zombie syndrome, parents of small children and teenagers face many of the same challenges. The trick is knowing how to address them.
Here are some tips:
Set a schedule
Sticking to a school year schedule is probably not realistic, but a modified yet consistent routine makes life easier.
“Ideally you want to keep bedtime and wake times within an hour of their regular schedule,” says Malia Jacobson, author of “Sleep Tight Every Night” and “Ready, Set, Sleep.”
Adopting a similar routine during the summer helps keep circadian rhythms (our internal body clocks) intact. The habit also eases the transition in the fall.
“If kids get in the habit of sleeping until noon, it can take weeks to get back on schedule when school starts,” Jacobson says.
Younger kids may start the summer with relentless requests to stay up late, or play outside because “C’mon, Mom, it’s still light outside!” However, they respond well to consistency.
“If you’re doing the same thing day to day, they will eventually stop asking,” says Jacobson.
Teens, not so much. Jacobson notes that although teenagers need more sleep than most people realize, parents can’t really enforce a bedtime.
“They are in charge of when they go to sleep,” she says. But you can enforce both a media curfew and a wake time, which will act as a cue for sleep and help teens to be “naturally inclined to get in bed at a reasonable hour.”
Control the environment
Darkening the room, especially if it is still bright outside, can help to cue the neurochemicals that make kids feel sleepy.
“Sleep doctors are adamant that the darker the better,” says Jacobson. That’s because our bodies pick up on the smallest amounts of light, which can inhibit our best sleep.
Jacobson recommends blackout curtains, and takes along a plain black flat sheet to tack to the window when traveling with her three young children.
A darker room also stays cooler. Jacobson says the ideal temperature for sleeping is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit and that cooling is an important physiological part of falling asleep.
Keep in mind that kids might not be able to articulate when temperature is the problem.
“They might be saying ‘I can’t sleep’ or they are irritable, without knowing why,” Jacobson says. Parents can replace winter weight bedding, use fans, or dampen children’s hair to cool them off, Jacobson says. “Some people even put pillow cases in the freezer.”
Finally, there is the problem of sync. Whether due to varying ages, schedules, or individual needs, children in the same family will often go to bed and get up at different times.
To keep them all well rested, maintain a set period of quiet time at night. In the mornings, get kids into the habit of getting up without waking their siblings. Emphasize individual time with a parent: pick out a special breakfast, or watch a favorite TV show or video. Zombie movies are optional.
How do you keep everyone rested and happy all summer long? Let us know on our Facebook page.
Lela Davidson is the author of "Blacklisted from the PTA," and "Who Peed on My Yoga Mat?" Her thoughts on marriage, motherhood, and lifeafter40 have appeared in hundreds of magazines, websites, and anthologies.